The St. John’s Almshouse project comprises 18 new flats within two Passivhaus certified buildings set within an extensive landscaping scheme in the grounds of the existing Lichfield Grade I listed Almshouses.
The Almshouses provide sheltered accommodation, or more specifically, ‘independent living for older people, with neighbourly support and care’. This social aspect is key to the design of the new apartments; arranged around a communal courtyard with an oak framed pavilion at its heart, the scheme seeks to reinforce the sense of community established over centuries at St. John’s.
The main client objectives were to provide the highest quality environment for the residents, and to reflect the ingenuity of the 15th century listed buildings which were groundbreaking in their day. To this end the new buildings were designed to Passivhaus standards, utilising high quality traditional materials with contemporary design and detailing. The material palette includes hand made bricks, clay plain roof tiles, copper cladding and green oak framing.
The Local Planning Authority and Historic England were heavily involved in the pre-planning development of the scheme. This helped to ensure a suitable architectural response, mitigating the impact of the building as seen from the adjacent Birmingham Road, minimising tree removal, and enhancing bio-diversity.
Construction began in July 2015 and the project finally handed over in August 2017. Delays included the discovery of 48 medieval skeletons during excavations, and the original contractor going into administration.
The two buildings adopt the same construction specification of cavity walls with full-fill mineral wool insulation & basalt wall ties. Internal wet plaster provides the airtightness layer. Roofs comprise airtight OSB to the underside of timber trussed rafters with insulation at ceiling level. In-situ concrete ground floor and precast concrete upper floors add thermal mass to the buildings as well as ensuring robust fire and acoustic performance. Nordan LINEA tilt & turn windows & Nordan NTech Passive doors ensure high performance of components.
The scheme has a centralised gas boiler that provides domestic hot water and heating. The larger block has a centralised MVHR plant. Individual MVHR units are utilised in the smaller block. Roof overhangs over the balconies provide the required shading during summer.
The apartments are all designed around generous entrance halls with open plan kitchen / living spaces and spacious bedrooms. Each is accessible by and has been sized to accommodate wheelchairs. Raised beds have been incorporated in the landscape design to encourage all residents to participate in the growing and sharing of food, and to socialise and support their neighbours.
We are delighted with how harmoniously our new buildings sit within their environment, blending seamlessly with our Grade 1 listed building and feel certain that the high levels of workmanship required by Passivhaus, will ensure that these buildings benefit future generations. We believe that the new almshouses are an exemplar project of how older people’s lives can be fulfilled and enriched by their surroundings, allowing them to fully access and contribute to their community. Feedback from residents, as they settle into their new homes at St John’s, indicates that they are delighted with their new homes, as one resident enthusiastically said, ‘It's like living in paradise’!
All images, unless otherwise stated KKE Architects