Adrian James Architects has created a plywood-lined, copper-clad, sustainable haven of karma for Vishuddha Yoga Centre in Oxford.
Hanging upside down using ropes fastened into the walls, the client of the Vishuddha Yoga Centre eloquently demonstrates the prowess of the bespoke yet economical wall socket system that lines the yoga studio. It’s an example of the a-lot-with-a-little philosophy that underpins the creation of this low energy building, designed in Oxford by local practice Adrian James Architects.
A rare example of a purpose-designed yoga centre, the project has a great location alongside the river Thames in the Osney Island conversation area, close to the railway station. It’s an area that James knows well – his own house is nearby on the other side of the river, with his practice office just behind, both self-designed. And like his own house, the yoga centre is notable for its prominent use of copper, employed at Vishuddha as rainscreen standing seam cladding and roofing. As a result, this intriguing infill development cuts quite a dash among the neighbouring terrace, the copper weathering down to contrast boldly with the pre-patinated green of the splayed copper window reveals. However this clearly contemporary intervention didn’t please everyone, and the development attracted deep opposition during the planning process from some neighbours.
Visiting not long after its opening, the 154 sq m (GIA) centre presents as an instantly engaging and curious addition to the terrace. It replaces a modest, pitched-roof workshop that in recent times was the studio of sculptor Hugo Powell. Fortunately for the architect’s ambitions for a legibly new addition, the local planners were keen that the infill should mark the historic break in the terrace – and its different usage – rather than attempting to ‘mend’ it by fitting in, In any case, its immediate neighbours sport difference façade treatments of render and brick respectively – the yoga studio adds a third all of its own.
As eye-catching as the riverside front elevation is, an equally important aspect of the project is how James worked with the client to create a sustainable, low-key bespoke facility in harmony with its yogic philosophy. The brief called for a main studio for a maximum class size of 16, a small space for 1 to 1 sessions, plus changing, shower and social spaces. An important underlying factor was the site’s flood plain location so close to the river – in response the ground floor is designed to be floodable with a poured concrete floor and valves that allow any floodwater – but not rats – to exit through the house in either direction.
An initial three-storey proposal was withdrawn and reworked as two storeys, the final design falling into place with the decision to locate the 50 sq m main studio on the first rather than ground floor. All other facilities are located on the ground floor.
Stepping in off the pavement, the ultra-thick, well-insulated oak front door sets the standard for the high-performing building fabric found throughout. Both client and architect were keen for the building to be as sustainable as possible in line with both modest budget and a truthful, no-frills yogic approach. As Vishuddha Yoga co-founder James Pritchard, the aforementioned upside down yoga teacher, says, it’s about: ‘having a building that says what it is and doesn’t cover anything up’. This starts with a pared-back aesthetic, with bare insulated blockwork providing thermal mass, and birch-faced plywood removing the need for plaster and plasterboard. There are no skirtings and services are exposed. The roof structure is timber, and the copper is recycled.
There is however a generosity of space where it counts. On arrival, yoga students enter into a corridor wide enough to park six bikes with plenty of circulation space to spare. The thoroughfare leads to the pleasant, Scandi-chic kitchen and socialising space at the rear – the plan is to be able to accommodate a class of students for events or refreshments. In a nice nod to the sculptor who previously occupied the site, the small courtyard garden will feature one of his works, and a number of lights salvaged from his workshop have been incorporated into the kitchen.
A bamboo staircase leads up to the main studio, which occupies the whole first floor. It is a beautiful, quirky space, adorned at one end by a bright mural depicting the river that lies just a short distance away. The space soars to 4.1m at its tallest, lit by two front windows and roof lights in the plywood ceiling admitting soft north light. A slim, rear window is jauntily-angled in response to the pitch of the roof. A cellular steel beam enables hanging equipment. But the most practical elements are the aforementioned bespoke wall panels, with metal sockets to plug in either bars or ropes at intervals up the wall while neatly avoiding any protuberances when not in use. LED strip lighting along the bottom of the wall can be set to different colours.
By creating such a bold infill, the architects have certainly – and commendably – seized the opportunity to make a distinctive contribution to the urban fabric rather than playing safe, a move that inevitably will not be welcomed by all. However James says he’s had the most positive reaction he’s ever had for a building since it completed. Client James Pritchard is also happy: ‘The building is more than we’d have hoped for. A magical place,’ he says.
GIA 154 m²
Fit out client managed JCT intermediate 2016
Embodied carbon 400 kgCO2e/m²
Client Vishuddha Yoga Centre
Structural engineer Stantec
QS Clarkson Alliance
Principal designer Adrian James Architects
Approved building inspector Oxford City Council
Main contractor Total Construction
CAD software Vectorworks