• Chris Evans

A Rural Studio that offers multiple, low-cost ecological solutions

In 2020 we were approached to design a temporary use cabin for a London-based client with family roots in West Wales who wanted to return to the area to plant a forest on redundant farmland, and needed a base on site for regular maintenance visits. Two years on, with energy costs rising, a housing shortage and changes in how we live and work post-pandemic, we think this rural studio lends itself more than ever to a wide range of low- impact design solutions, with both temporary as well as longer-term uses.

The 'Farm to Forest' project didn't have a specific site, but the client emailed details of a number of parcels of farmland for sale that they were considering. These typically included pasture with a range of habitat such as upland and wetland areas that could be enhanced for biodiversity as well as providing space for new woodland.

The rural location envisaged presented a challenge, but the client was clear in his brief to us. As the client worked in London, the physical work to develop the project and plant hundreds of sapling trees would have to be carried out during planned visits to Wales. This required a building that could be left shut-up and secure when not in use, but welcoming and easily inhabited when they arrived, providing simple, comfortable accommodation powered by an off-grid solution.

A further requirement entailed meeting the conditions of the local planning authority for development in the countryside- in this instance by proposing a temporary structure on bearers. Our overall aim was for a functional solution that met planning restrictions, but would also be low-impact and reversible, having a minimal ecological footprint.

The design we came up with provided simple, space-efficient studio accommodation, based on the size of a shipping container module for a number of construction options. The choice between these would depend on both cost as well as the practical need for flexibility in transporting the unit to a potentially remote rural location. Depending on these the choice of options included:

  • External insulation and cladding wrapped around a re-purposed shipping container

  • Insulated panels attached to a steel chassis and frame fabricated by a specialist manufacturer

  • Structurally insulated (SIPS) panels box-assembly erected on floor joists, with roof joists added, all built on site

Intended for off-grid living, with a choice of rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels for power, features include rooftop rainwater collection, and chemical or composting w.c. Equally the cabin could be connected to utilities and services in locations where these are available and there are numerous uses to which this could be put including:

  • Garden rooms for home-working and outdoor living

  • Further low-cost accommodation for extended families

  • Commercial workspace ( eg. information/reception offices)

  • Eco-holiday lodges in rural tourist locations

  • Low-cost temporary housing on marginal, brownfield/ edge-of-town and rural sites to help address housing need for couples and single people

If you like the look of this for a project you have in mind, we'd love to hear from you.

Images: Farm to Forest prospective sites in Ceredigion. Client's concept sketch for a hillside project including the cabin. Small can be beautiful'- the 'Tini-home' office-cabin by Spanish architects Delavecanolasso , Double up with space-saving folding bunks. Design for the rural studio: iDeA Architects

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