What’s the most notorious kind of building development in Britain in the last decade? We’re pretty sure it’s the office-to-residential conversion, as stories spread about how permitted development rights had been used (and abused) to create shoebox flats that – in the very worst cases – had no windows at all. The people responsible would sometimes argue that they were helping to solve the housing crisis, but all they were doing was substituting one kind of housing crisis for another.
And yet, it’s also true that changing work patterns have meant that there are solidly constructed office buildings that struggle to find companies to fill them. It would expensive and disruptive, not to mention bad for climate change, for them all to be demolished. Surely, they can be turned into much-needed homes, as long as this is done with the idea of designing enjoyable places to live rather than just trying to cram as many bodies as possible into the space?
The government has – not before time – done its bit by making natural light and national space standards key parts of any application to create new homes using permitted development rights.
So that was the background for when we started work on this office-to-residential conversion in the heart of Swindon – could we show how it can be done right?
We need to give credit to our clients, who were never interested in creating what have been called “21st-century slums”. Instead, what they were after were stylish, comfortable town-centre apartments. And so the task they gave us wasn’t just about dividing up the space tidily – it included coming up with an identity for the building.
The interior look we created hints at both Art Deco and midcentury modern – we think it’s rather chic but we’ll leave you to decide about that. Our work even involved devising a logo for the development, which was great because it gave our incredibly talented in-house graphic designer a chance to have a direct input into a building for once.
So what’s the result of all of this? Twenty-four new flats where there were no homes before, all an easy walk from shops and offices and schools, all with plenty of light and good-sized and carefully laid-out rooms. Far from the 21st-century slums associated with office-to-residential conversions, these are the right kind of home in the right place.
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