• Image: WWII bunker, Caversfield
  • Image: WWII bunker conversion
  • Image: WWII bunker Caversfield interior

Feilden+Mawson has recently completed the conversion of a former WWII, specialised decontamination bunker into two luxury homes, at MOD Caversfield in Bicester, Oxfordshire. The conversion of a windowless, fortress-like structure into two residential units was a difficult brief, with no readymade solutions or precedents available. The designs are a bespoke solution in their context and a unique creation.

The exterior of the building has great historical significance in the context of the RAF airfield setting, designed with massive construction to withstand explosions from within and bombs from without. The external appearance of this remarkable building with its central 'dome' rising above the brick parapet walls, and shuttered access doors, was considered sacrosanct by the conservation officer, who required the exterior of the building should remain unaltered. Much of the original interior however had been removed or altered providing Feilden+Mawson with an opportunity to effect a conversion of the building to residential use.

As the existing building effectively turns inwards from its setting, the architects referenced contemporary courtyard houses in modern Tokyo that similarly turn inwards to counter the surrounding urban chaos, and seek to create a Zen like calm within the garden courtyards. These minimalist spaces have a tranquil serenity that was the inspiration for these houses. Uncluttered spaces with white walls, hardwood timber floors and large glazed areas are the principal elements used to form the composition.

Internally, bedrooms and utility spaces are located at ground level, with each bedroom provided with direct access to a paved courtyard via full-height glazed doors. The low-rise profile of the original structure provides these spaces with an intimate nature in keeping with the secluded character of the bunker itself. At the same time, light rendered finishes to all the courtyard walls ensures maximum daylight is brought into the lower levels of the building.

On the upper floor, large living areas make full use of the original form, with the central dome structure opened up to provide double height spaces. These are topped with plateau rooflights to flood the spaces with light. Daylight from further rooflights in the lower level roof leads toward an external timber deck that spans the full width between the original bunker walls. Sliding glazed doors can be fully opened to provide access to the terrace, which, on warm summer days, can become an extension to the living area.

The opportunity afforded by the building involved both the conservation of an iconic heritage asset, and change of use, from quasi-industrial/military, to private residential dwellings. Both of the new houses in Block 43 provide unique garden courtyard spaces that are outdoor rooms, principal spaces, and visual focal points within the houses.

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