Millend Mill, a Restoration to Former Glory, Adaptive Reuse to Perform a New Function, by Undercurrent Architects

Architecture
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Project credits:
Name: Millend Mill
Location: Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Architect: Undercurrent Architects; Project led by Didier Ryan
Construction: Bob Brewer, a local builder
Duration: 2012-2015
Investment: Over 2 million pounds
Awards: AIA Award for ‘Best Creative Reuse of Industrial Building’ in 2015

The Millend mill, having renown and relevance as a woolen cloth mill, dated as far back as 1550’s, an important period in the history of the nation, has been listed, as per the norms prevalent as a Grade II Heritage Structure. Incidentally, the site of the mill itself is an ancient site, and there has been noted a succession of mills, either on or within the vicinity of the present structure, since before Domesday, which is a manuscript record, made by order of King William the Conqueror, and comprises of the ‘Great Survey’ of a large portion of England and parts of Wales, and was completed in 1086.

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The project currently undertaken describes the restoration of the ancient building, along with sensitive and intelligent adaptive reuse of some levels for the purpose of housing, and the current functions were modeled on principles which the mill once used for its own functioning. Any project which involves working with heritage aspects automatically require intensive thought, for while it is essential to ensure that the project stays viable for a current context, the heritage factor linked to it has its own cultural connotations, and any intervention needs to stay faithful to that. 

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Also, when linked to heritage, it becomes vital to understand the influencing factors and layers in history which have played a part in the current status of the building or the site. Therefore, following is a brief timeline exploring the history of Millend Mill. 

In 1806, Millend was bought by a wealthy landowner and rebuilt entirely by 1818. Cloth manufacture was becoming incrementally mechanised, and the power was initially provided by three water wheels, driven by an arm of River Frome. Yet, power requirements continued to grow. In 1821, a steam engine was installed, the first of its kind within this region. By 1830’s, competition in clothing mills was incredibly stiff and one mill could not generate enough, and by 1869, cloth milling at Millend ceased. In the 1870’s, it was converted for flour and saw milling, and in 1908, the function was altered to maltings. After a serious fire in 1922, and subsequent rebuilding, it was home to many various functions including corn milling, grain drying and also taken over by an antiques exporting company, until in 1980, it was finally abandoned and left for decay.

Almost thirty years later, the course of the building’s life set sail to another path, as Robert Lamplough, bought the derelict mill, and gave way to the beginning of an extensive restoration program as well as the conversion of the industrial function of the building, to one more practical according to the current ages, which is, residential. 15

Within the tenet of refurbishment of the mill, there was included a restoration scheme, which held true to the shape and form of the building. In addition, the designers undertook the reinstatement of one of the elements, which was an integral part of the original mill, and that was, the elm water wheel, so that it functioned again, and it was proved capable of generating several kilowatts of power. This idea itself is a representation of what heritage conservation entails, where retaining the original essence, despite necessary alterations, is held important.

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The upper levels were proposed to be converted into housing, which included a total of eleven apartments, built over an open plan hall, which is a functional space and a community museum, dedicated to the historical workings of the Mill.

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The design, within every sense, retains the entity and grandeur of the original building without compromising its heritage, rooted in the industrial beginnings. Also, the areas with the overgrown site were cleared and the serene location now accommodates cottages. At ground level, the floor has been opened up and the culverts which traverse through the structure can be viewed by exposure, and the elm waterwheel, a true representation of the Mill’s retained tradition, can be witnessed harnessing the energy from the flowing river. 

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The museum is another feature of the project which bares the essence of the heritage of the structure, as it features the archaeological findings, such as mill stones, spindles and gantries, along with the information on the production of energy.

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The example of restoration and simultaneous adaptive reuse of available entities is reflective of a sensitivity towards heritage which needs to be developed in anyone working with heritage buildings, in order to make sure that the heritage lives on. In any context, it is unusual to have any element of heritage not affected by layers of additions from other quarters over the years. Herein, the structure is prepared for a new layer, while retaining the basic entities which essentially define it. 

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Undercurrent Architects are specialists in regeneration projects. Their practice had begun as a small one, with their ambition being to practice exceptional architecture worldwide.

34Didier Ryan (Principal Architect Undercurrent Architects)

With years into the field, they have truly achieved their aim, with works within a wide range, and collaborations with diverse groups, including local artisans and craftsmen to multinational corporations. Their works can be viewed in several continents, each being a resultant of an approach which takes context, climate, materials all into consideration, bringing forth unique results.

Extensive History, Archival Photographs and Archival Drawings, along with Picture taken during the Restoration Project:

millend-mill-uk-undercurrent-architects_121

 – Devashree Vyas ,Volume Zero

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