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The Water Tower

by Tonkin Liu

Client Dennis Pedersen

Awards RIBA East Award 2021

This project has been shortlisted for the 2021 Stephen Lawrence Prize

© Dennis Pedersen

The Water Tower is an extraordinary family second home in Norfolk, where a derelict structure has been brought back into viable use. It is situated above and to the north of the local village, down a lane, surrounded by fields. Its prominent position led to concerns from local residents about overlooking and light pollution, and the impact of inhabiting a structure that once provided functional utility to the village but lay dormant as a decaying local landmark.

The building is divided into two elements, in Kahn’s terms "served and servant spaces": accommodation to the north, served by a stair tower to the south. Accommodation comprises ground floor kitchen/dining, two floors of bedrooms and an upper living/dining/kitchen tank room at the top.

The stair and lift tower has no windows and faces towards the village, resolving the overlooking and light issues. The stair is formed from two layers of CLT, with an interlayer spacer, with balusters reusing reinforcement from the original tank room. It is a delightful helical stair, spiralling within its rectilinear box and lit from a roof light at the top. A glazed ‘bridge’ link provides access to the northern accommodation tower, with each room enjoying a fully glazed elevation looking out across arable fields. At the top, the stair tower gives access through a roof light to a terrace above, with PVs and balustrading.

The new structure sits within the original metal framing and is made from CLT. It provides structural stiffness to the original tower, which had previously been provided by the weight of the water, but which otherwise would bend and twist in its absence. The interior spaces within the new structure are exposed CLT, wrapped in corrugated reflective metal on the exterior. The interior has warmth and a visual ‘weight’ to it from the exposed CLT finish. Externally, the play of light on the corrugations and the reflectivity picking up the colour of the sky and passing weather is a delight. It is a complementary visual contrast to the ironwork of the original structure, which crisscrosses in front of it.

The upper tank room enjoys a ribbon window around three sides, neatly cut through the middle of the tank, providing panoramic views of the Norfolk countryside, and a roof light giving views of the sky. The interior retains the original exposed metal panels from the plant room, with the original ballcocks and valves being retained as decorative features. The exterior is wrapped in insulated render, painted grey, which transforms the original tank room into a ‘look out’ with a 1930s architectural language.

The client is a photographer who, in order to achieve the vision and bring it in within an affordable budget, became the main contractor. The care and attention that has been given to the details, with the photographer’s eye, is evident throughout, as was the approach to retain as much as possible of the original building structure, and to reuse any elements that were surgically removed during construction.

The Water Tower is an example of how an unloved redundant structure can be given a new sustainable life through intelligent design, carefully and diligently applied by a committed and driven client. The effort to preserve and retain as much of the original structure as possible and the rigour of the execution is exemplary. It shows how good retrofitting design can combine low embodied energy and architectural delight.

Contractor MNB Services

Project Management Dennis Pederson

Structural Engineer
Rodrigues Associates

Environmental / M&E Engineer

Internal area 160 m²

© Dennis Pedersen
© Dennis Pedersen
© Dennis Pedersen
© Dennis Pedersen
© Tonkin Liu
© Tonkin Liu
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