CaSA Architects' workshops demonstrate the social benefits of good design for Ringwood's Lantern Community
Quiet concentration as the shuttle is threaded through, thought before the correct foot pedal is pressed for the loom to tamp down the thread and bring another line of material into being. At the Lantern Community near Ringwood in Hampshire, soft cushion covers, simple lavender bags, smart table runners and linen dishclothes emerge from the hands and looms of the companions in the workshop.
Beyond this Steiner-influenced enclave, companions are more normally known as people with learning disabilities. If you have encountered a group on the street you may have sensed a fearful wildness and the impression that stressed carers are only a step away from being out of control. But in their workshops, designed by CaSA Architects, the atmosphere is studious, with hands engaged. Why crafts? ‘They are what your hands are for,' explains Simon Figg, lynchpin of the community. 'There are inherent gestures built in to us, it is about what it is to be human.'
The spaces for exercising those gestures used to be a motley collection of garages and sheds. At its heart the warm wooden hub of shop, cafe and meeting space shines out from a Feilden Clegg Bradley building, giving the community its name. Since it was finished in the 1990s it has been the centre point to the grounds and the houses – which most of the companions live in – scattered around it.
Now that centre has bloomed. Two new buildings, long and low, look onto a small scale landscape spread around a large tulip tree, in yellow autumn array when I visited.
Overhanging roofs may provide shading but also offer a protective wrap and, even on a grey day, a veranda – a hunkered down stoop. Here workshops meet the garden and, edged by bench-walls, people meet people. The same communal principle operates on the plan of both new buildings, which are entered through the kitchen that links the main spaces and provides the social glue, over tea, that joins together the sessions of work.
While the two buildings share a lot, the pottery workshop and art room are dug into the earth of the hill, a small signal that this is a place of the earth. Actually, though, dust is what really had to be dealt with: extractors deal with this and also remove some of the heat of the kiln. Here the most delicate and beautiful pieces are made in fine ceramic: less thumbs into clay, more delicate filigrees. The demand from the shop for lights and cups is such that if this was a true production line the teams would be being hurried along, but there is a balance to be struck between production and measured, education-led work.
The second building, for weaving and seasonal craft, uses the same highly insulated envelope with natural ventilation, using BMS for window controls, based on Passivhaus principles. Also housing a wood drying store and dying room, it is a little larger. Its processes are signified by the woven western red cedar on one face. On the other, slats of more western red cedar, now greying, offers a less refined nod to the seasonal craft.
One wonders if the fitted out workshops, each to a different brief with bright wool wall here and sewing space there, might prove inflexible in the future. It is hard to tell: the activities and residents, some who have lived here most of their lives, seem very settled. But the demands of local authority funders and the Care Quality Commission have wrought many changes over the last decades.
Emma Borbely looks after the activities of the day for the 40 resident and 25 day companions and has worked, and sometimes lived, at the Lantern Community for two decades since she was eighteen. She acknowledges that 10 years of masterplans, designs and fundraising seems a lot for two buildings that could have been simple timber sheds. But no, this should show the quality that the Lantern Community offers residents. For CaSA, the dedication over this time became a personal project that drew on many of the practice's interests in sustainability and, perhaps, the personal ethos of director Ian Walker. Walking freely around this pleasant and reinvigorated little village, the simple lines of the project seem perfectly judged for the setting, reflecting the care and purpose the community itself generates.
Total contract cost: £800,000
Gross internal floor area (GIFA): 372m2
GIFA cost per m2: £2150
Form of contract: JCT intermediate
Client Lantern Community
Architect CaSA Architects
Contractor Greendale Construction
Structural engineer Mark Lovell Design Engineers
Building Services Engineer Greengauge Building Energy
Quantity surveyor Smith Thomas Consult
Windows: Velfac Direct
Sliding: Katzbeck Windows and Doors
Brick: Ibstock Brick
Timber woven panels: Garden Trellis Company
Flatroof: Iko Single Ply