River Studio

River Studio was originally a packing shed for a market garden and is located in greenbelt just outside of Leamington Spa. As a practice, we are passionate about repurposing old buildings and wanted to experience, hands-on, the practical requirements of developing a Passivhaus Enerphit studio from an eyesore asbestos clad shell. Our challenge was to create a balance between architecture and physics.


The building is designed within the volume of the original, a requirement of planning. A simple form helped achieve PH standards. Reusing the existing steel structure and floor slab in lieu of demolition allowed reduction of the carbon footprint and embodied energy, saving £78k making the project viable and retaining character and memory of the site.

Construction commenced in May 2013 and was completed in December 2013. The frame was blasted, allowed to oxidise; flexibility of the existing structure allowed easy adaptation and wrapping in SIPS simultaneously provided high levels of insulation, minimising wall thicknesses and spanning between the existing columns, negating the need for additional structure whilst providing a continuous airtight layer internally.

We utilised raw and industrial materials to create an aesthetic of simplicity and robustness. External cladding is cedar modulated to align with structural bays and windows. Internally simple white walls contrast with oxidised steel, galvanised service runs and a painted concrete floor.

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The design optimises daylighting and frames vistas; this balances visual comfort with great views of the beautiful surroundings, encouraging creativity and enhancing wellbeing. The studio layout is simple and democratic. The serviced spaces, WC and kitchen are accommodated together with the plant, to the north side, allowing the studio space to be double aspect. Artificial lighting has been designed to be efficient, reducing energy consumption whilst animating the spaces.

We capitalised on solar gain, but reduced risk of overheating by introducing brise soleil and overhangs in the walls as well as utilising cross ventilation throughout the spaces. Service runs are expressed, which will allow future flexibility and fit in with the simple use of materials and finishes. The MVHR unit has been exposed on the mezzanine area celebrating the mechanics behind the ventilation strategy.

Our final air test achieved 0.4 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals exceeding Passivhaus Requirements. We achieved a predicted heating energy demand result of 18kWh/m2yr well within Passivhaus Enerphit requirements (25kWh/m2yr).

The re-purposing of this unpromising building is an example of how imaginative re-use can be better than a new build option.


This is an elegantly simple project that re-uses a redundant asbestos cement-clad building to create a new studio for the architect while meeting Passivhaus Enerphit standards within a limited budget. The resulting building is a clear manifestation of an underlying logic, ensuring that the potential of each element of the building has been maximised in the evolution of the design.

The decision to retain and exploit the character of the existing steel frame, not only by exposing it, but allowing it to develop a natural oxidation patina, strongly evokes the history of the former building. Its lattice form raises it above one of pure utility while new elements, such as the metal plate alternating tread stair, retain this aesthetic. Clear spanning structural insulated panels avoid the need for an additional secondary structure to produce a cost-refined solution, and brise soleil provide attractive visual modelling on the simple cedar-clad rectilinear exterior. The carefully refined solution has transformed a redundant and unattractive shed into an elegant contemporary and sustainable building in the rural landscape.

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