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The Garden Retreat

Cambridge, England

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On a quiet street in Cambridge, nestled behind a row of Victorian terraced houses, lies ‘The Garden Retreat’. This temple-like garden studio replaced an asbestos shed and its 15m2 space packs in more functions than its footprint would belie. Its designer and builder Ed Barsley from The Environmental Design Studio (TEDS) has said, “The process of creating the studio has been a source of great joy over the years and has been projects within projects. I was writing my book and needed something that would take me away from the screen, let me use my hands, and allow my mind chew over a different sort of design challenge.” The building’s form is dug into the ground to reduce its height and for enhanced thermal performance. Two elegantly stacked towers of reclaimed slate flank the studio’s entrance and have been assembled in a record collection-like configuration. “When the roof of our Victorian house was being replaced, we were asked if we wanted the old slates scrapped, but I felt like they still had a story to tell and they’ve proved to be a wonderful material to have been able to salvage and re-use. The way light falls on them at different times of the day and year is beautiful to see and I’m sure they act as a bug hotel of sorts for many a species.” The deep-set reveal of the studio’s entrance and its slate-stacked facade creates a temple-like form. The inset entrance does however serve a dual purpose, as the overhang shelters the door from weathering and limits the amount of solar gain into the space. A stainless steel waterfall has been delicately, integrated incised into the slate facade and water from it cascades into a custom-made bird bath that blends into an outdoor kitchen area and bespoke railway sleeper seating. A seam of lead runs around the parapet of the building and skirts a flouring purple, white and pink sedum roof. “We wanted the studio to be a thing of beauty to look out at for both us and our neighbours and the green roof really does look stunning, with its colours changing throughout the year. It also helps to enhance biodiversity in the area, reduces the speed of runoff when it rains and keeps the studio cool during hot summer days, so it’s win, win, win really.” At the rear of the studio, pivoting slatted timber-clad doors open to reveal vertical bike racks and a refuse/tool store. Access to the main studio space is via a bespoke 2m wide, cross-braced pivoting oak framed door, with glazing inset to provide as much natural light as possible. “I’d sketched out hundreds of different door designs and had even been exploring reusing an industrial crittall window.. but in the end the hand-made pivoting oak framed door worked a treat and it makes me happy every time I use it.” The studio’s structure was recycled from a friend of Barsley’s who had been researching high-rise timber skyscrapers, and its floorboards were garnered from the neighbour’s house whilst they were enroute to be scrapped. The worktops within the studio space are from a tree Barsley’s father and grandfather planted, planked and planed. Horizontal oak dato rails skirt the perimeter of the space at bench, desk and standing desk height, revealing the versatile range of layouts and configurations that are possible within the space. “It felt a shame to lock the layout for one specific use. The approach I’ve gone for instead means that the desks can become benches or be completely removed if need be and open up the space as the whole.” LED up-lights, housed within bespoke oak trays are suspended from the ceiling and light up the waffle-shaped joists of the ceilings form. Peg board walls further enhance the practicality of the building, enabling tools, devices and artwork to be easily positioned and adjusted when needed. This choice of materials of materials for teh walls was also a cost-saving decision; “With the price of timber sheeting quadrupling during the course of the build, I realised that for a fraction of that cost, I could buy and fit the pegboard on the walls. It took time to line up all the dots, but I’m thrilled with the effect and from a practical point of view it further enhances the functionality of the space.” The landscape around the building has been designed to be connected and directly relate to the studio. Planted troughs have been built into the fence that runs alongside the studio and are spaced out to reduce wind loading on the structure. Their south-facing chamfered rear edges allow the sun to shine on the growing space, whilst still ensuring privacy to the neighbouring gardens. “These are currently planted with sedum but the plan is for it to be a herb garden and living wall. The combined growing area of the fence is over 4m2 and it’s area that would otherwise be unused if we had just kept the standard panel fence that waved and wobbled in the wind.” The garden retreat has been designed to be a low-energy, yet versatile building. Its form and palette of materials are simple, but it’s peppered full of different ways in which the space can be used and provides both a practical and peaceful space.

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