IN THESE times of uncertainty, people are finding themselves looking to the future and recognising new directions open to them – and architecture and home building is no exception.

Brexit and now the global COVID-19 pandemic have cast a long shadow over the way we live and work, but whenever adversity faces us, there often lies opportunity. At Mill Architects, they are looking at the impact these changes are having on our daily lives.

Global warming and then coronavirus have resulted in significantly fewer people willing to board an aeroplane and head abroad on holiday, but traditional farm buildings can often lend themselves perfectly to conversion into holiday accommodation, whilst spare land can be used for new-build lets, pods or modular units.

Partner at Mill Architects, Chris Duncan explained: “Traditional work places are shrinking as employers realise many of their staff can work from home for all or at least part of their week.

The move to a home office or workshop doesn’t suit many people, due to lack of space, facilities or simply the need for social interaction, so if you’re close to a head of population, lettable business space can be worth considering, and that’s where we can come in.

“Concerns over imported goods and the quality of what we eat has also seen a burgeoning industry grow up around the food and drink sector. We have seen a rise, in recent years, in the number of farm shops and the standard of these continues to improve. Destination retail is highly desirable and opportunities exist to not only showcase Scotland’s finest produce but to combine this with hospitality, children’s’ activities and leisure.”

With estate agents seeing record numbers of urban dwellers desperate to leave the congestion of our cities and seek a healthier life in the country, residential development in the countryside requires particular skill on the part of the development team, but there are many situations where consent can be obtained for creating new housing. Conversion of architecturally significant, traditional buildings is generally acceptable to local authorities and often an element of new-build can accompany this. Re-development on existing building footprints or where there is evidence of former buildings on a site can also result in a positive outcome.

Chris continued: “Rural development doesn’t need to be simply a reaction to malevolent outside factors. There is a rising trend in businesses, which embrace green technologies and sustainable building.

“Nowhere is better placed than the countryside for maximising the potential of renewable energy and natural materials. Often utilities and drainage are inadequate or absent from sites but with appropriate knowledge, ways can be found to overcome these obstacles.

“An example is a new wedding venue we are working on for Cairns Castle Estate, west of Edinburgh. Here, the water comes off the hill, the power supplies are insufficient and drainage non-existent. We were able to negotiate a foul discharge solution with SEPA and looked into an array of on-site power and heat generating technologies to take up the shortfall. The building is recycled from steel-framed lambing sheds and the entrance is through a re-claimed feed silo. The timber for cladding and internal finishes was felled and milled on the farm, saving time, money and minimising the building’s carbon footprint. Already, the venue is heavily booked, off-plan, demonstrating how a well-managed development can bring real benefits to the landowner.”

Examples like that certainly play into the agritourism movement, which is sweeping the nation, encouraging people to visit the country and become involved in activities here. It is an educational journey and beneficial for all those who take part.

“If you own disused rural buildings or land, particularly brownfield land, you have the prospect to create a rewarding and lucrative new income stream,” Chris said.

“Trends in diversification have seen the workload in architectural practices, specialising in rural development, turn towards maximising the potential of existing assets.

“It goes without saying that construction in the countryside comes with its own set of challenges and it’s important to ensure you get the best advice to take your project forward. Planning permission strikes fear into the hearts of many but with careful attention to the guidelines, which apply to your local authority, arguments can be made to support your project. It’s always worth making an initial enquiry about feasibility – you might be surprised by what’s possible.”

He also explained that drainage should be looked into early in your development process so the proper level of provision can be designed and agreed though SEPA.

“Farmers, land owners, rural businesses, estates, owners of listed buildings and countryside residents can all benefit from the services of an architect,” concluded Chris.

“When considering new development or simply making improvements. Initial consultations are generally free, so there’s nothing to lose from making that initial enquiry!”