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Reviving an Industrial Gem

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Reviving an Industrial Gem

Guernsey boasts a broad spectrum of important historic buildings, so it was no surprise that this year’s Guernsey Design Awards, which aim to promote distinctive, original and sustainable design of the local built environment, added a heritage category to celebrate the work around these structures. Lovell Ozanne Surveying director, Chris Richardson, looks at the company’s award winning project ‘Unit 8’ – an example of Guernsey industry of years gone by…

The ancient parish churches, St Peter Port’s landmark buildings and the numerous traditional Guernsey farmhouses are most immediately recognised as being of historic value and worthy of conservation. However, the collection of buildings forming ‘Unit 8’, alongside St Sampson’s traditional harbour, is a rare local example of 19th century industrial architecture, and it is the refurbishment of these protected buildings, which received the 2016 Heritage Award.

Built in 1890, as part of John Mowlem’s thriving quarrying and stonework business, which exported Guernsey granite for use in prestigious London projects, the buildings housed the steam generating plant which powered the yard’s stone crushing operation.

The prominent chimney in particular, which takes its styling from St Peter Port’s Victoria Tower, exhibits impressively ornate granite detailing, indicating the wealth and pride associated with the island’s stone industry of the period. The workmanship employed in this masonry might nowadays be expected of showpiece headquarter premises for the island’s finance businesses, with industrial activities now typically relegated to more cost-effective shed-like structures. Unit 8 therefore pays tribute to the activities of the past.

Internal Shot of Industrial Unit 8

Potential

Following the decline of the stone industry in the island, these prominent stone buildings inevitably fell into a state of disrepair. The expiry of the previous tenancy in 2013 provided an opportunity for the owners to address the deterioration and maximise the potential within.

The owner’s intent was to sympathetically upgrade the buildings while respecting the historic elements and, in so doing, provide a quality building for the modern day commercial market.

The protected building status of Unit 8 rightly influenced the nature of refurbishment. Having acknowledged the importance of the historic fabric, there was opportunity to create an internal space suited to modern day use while retaining essential character. For example, early research revealed past existence of a long forgotten curved roof to the roadside part of the building. The re-introduction of this key design feature offered a contemporary twist while paying regard to the history of the building, also enabling the introduction of a mezzanine floor with additional useable space.

Modern

The opportunity was taken to improve the unit by the introduction of modern elements into the design where possible. Glazed gables now bring light into the interior; the new floor and roof structures are insulated throughout; and the timber windows to the tower are double-glazed but replicate the original, small pane styling.

The building now provides a commercially viable industrial unit which retains the qualities of the historic building, showing that inclusion on the island’s list of protected buildings does not mean it had to be frozen in time. To the contrary, sympathetic design, careful specification of materials and an understanding of the history and important features of the building can, as in this case, permit successful re-development and the continued viability of such buildings for generations to come.

CHRIS RICHARDSON

LOVELL OZANNE & PARTNERS SURVEYING LIMITED