The practice acted as client, architect and contractor for Quarry Studios, where footfall in the café next door is already generating new commissions
Driving up into the wilds of the Cairngorms National Park on the A93 there is a new stopping off place, just before you reach Balmoral: Tàrmachan Café at Crathie. This is no transport caff with hot tea slopped into polystyrene in a layby caravan. Here you will find speciality coffee and your cheese sandwich comes with venison salami and kimchi.
The building it sits in is no sideshow. Nestled into the curve of an old quarry the strong concrete lines of its chimneys stand proud amidst the silver birch, rowan, juniper and alder. A black colonnade protects café tables from the weather while drawing visitors on towards the studio of the building’s designer, Moxon Architects. Moxon director Ben Addy, who lives nearby, often finds visitors peering into the offices or walking around the back of the building to get a better look. ‘It was a tourist attraction even before we moved in,’ he says.
But first and foremost this is a building for design, with the café acting as a gateway. Next to it there is a studio with meeting and modelmaking rooms. Interior spaces lead into intimate landscapes and terraces around the building.
Moxon Architects has a west London base as well as this one in Aberdeenshire. From those two studios come the practice’s visions for dramatic viaducts and interesting houses. Until this year the Scottish team was working in an outbuilding up the steep lane to Addy’s home. Quarry Studios is a far more public face. And, in the few months since the team shifted their socially distanced working here, it has directly prompted ‘serious’ enquiries, including one where Moxon was appointed just two weeks after the client came for a coffee.
The quarry was originally for sale as a house site. It had been a depot (and a tip) for the local authority roads department, so clearing away the chippings and tar was a priority. Addy lopes over the hill to the office each the morning through Crathie Woods, one layer in the many ecosystems that ascend up to a ridge of the Cairngorms (and a site of special scientific interest). For him extending that richness into the quarry, alongside the buildings and car park, has also been important, hence the pond and 50-60 newly planted trees. The building takes advantage of this with outdoor ‘rooms’, terraces and wild gardens, created by the kinks in the plan. It also uses the orientation to the best advantage, tilting up to meet the westerly sun when it peeps above the quarry edge.
The only things that break that line are the two chimneys, plumes of smoke signalling an ancient welcome from determinedly modern rectilinear concrete forms. Running around the building is the colonnade, a pragmatic response to Scottish weather, giving sheltered access in rain and snow, and shading to the south and east from the summer sun. This is a building without a back, always quite an achievement. But there is a plant room with a ground source heat pump deep into the granite paying its way now the weather is colder. This and other messy elements are relegated to the workshop on the other side of the quarry – although Tarmachan Café’s owners have their eyes on this for a bakery.
You are drawn along almost the whole length of the building before you enter the studio. Its spaces give a sense of the different paces of work and decisions any architects must grapple with. The single drawing board alongside the window and opposite the hearth in one modest room evokes a sense of contemplation, of the generation of ideas needed for a weekend of drawing, as Addy imagined when designing it. But it is also has the feel of a liveable room where clients can come to talk about the design of their homes (and it has been colonised by staff as a lunch spot). There is the model workshop and, at the entrance, the project meeting room – here a whole team can traipse in without disturbing the studio. Not that there is much of that at the moment. But the design has proved itself happily suited for the pandemic, with its natural ventilation and generous space for socially distanced working spaces.
This is a building that speaks of the relative prosperity of pre-pandemic times: the £1 million construction cost was funded through Moxon’s profits, with no borrowing. It also took on all the risk as client, architect and contractor. Addy appreciated being in direct touch with those who built the building, as he has been on other projects in Scotland. Here it allowed them to discuss designs with subcontractors, provide them with the BIM model and talk through it in detail. Such conversations meant the steel frame could be built by a company more used to barns, and an absence of what Addy describes as the ‘normal tangles of liability’ allowed the architects to design a fairly complex building but with reliable geometry; and to underwrite that while being certain of the detail. It looks to Addy like one way of continuing to develop the practice and he has just bought a site where he is working on securing planning for five house, again as client, architect and contractor. All fuelled by some rather good coffee.
Client: Moxon Architects
Architect/executive architect: Moxon Architects
Main contractor: Tor Contracting / Moxon Architects
Structural engineer: Graeme Craig Consulting Engineer
QS / cost consultant: Moxon Architects
CDM coordinators: George Watt + Stewart Architects
Total construction cost: £1 million
Total cost per m2: £2,500
Buildings & fitout cost/m2: £2,100
Gross internal & external floor area: 400m2 (+ 65m2 roof terrace)
On-site energy generation: 50%
Annual mains water consumption: 11m3/occupant
Airtightness at 50pa: 2.8m3/h/m2
Heating and hot water load: 38.72kwh/m2/yr
Average u-value: 0.22 w/m2k