Ian Simpson Architects: Water storage tank conversion

At the beginning of my MA I started to look how unusual, disused spaces could be converted into residential properties. One of my main focuses was on underground homes and how disused reservoirs and water storage tanks could be used to create these homes, especially where there were high planning constraints.

One of the examples I looked at was a disused water storage tank in my local area of Garstang. I knew at the time a proposal was in the pipe lines for the conversion of the tank to a luxury residential dwelling, but no other information or final proposals where available.

But now after many months and years of planning a proposal has been made to my local council for planning permission. So here is my personal opinion and view of the proposal and design and also information on the proposal.

Existing Larger Tank

 The Existing Site:

The existing site is located in Barnacre-with-Bonds, near Garstang, Lancashire. On the site there are two disused water storage tanks, with one being much larger than the other. The tanks are situated on an elevated site, off Eidsforth Lane in the Bowland Forest are. Due to the very rural location there are very few surrounding buildings, with the majority of the buildings being working farms, small cottages and barn conversions.

Surrounding the site there is also a large amount of woodland area and hedgerows. There are breathtaking views across Nicky Nook (a local beauty spot), the Forest of Bowland, the local rural countryside and you can also see across the Fylde coast to the Irish Sea on the horizon.

The majority of the roads to the site are small rural roads, bearing the national speed limit. The site is accessed by a private, concrete road which has been purposely built for the site and connects to the top of Eidsforth lane. There is also a public footpath which runs along the south-west boundary of the site and leads through to Nicky Nook.

History of the Site:

On the site there is also an original circa house which was built in 1932, over the smaller underground water tank. In 1972 the larger water storage tank was built, which was built to hold 1 million gallons of water. In a recent survey of the tank it was found the original high grade concrete walls of the tanks which forms the main construction, are still in a ‘as new’ condition even after 40 years of service. I believe this is probably due to the high grade material used and also the fact that the main structural walls are around 87cm thick.

The internal size of the larger tank is 33m x 20m, 740m² and has an internal height of 7m with the height being reduced to 4.9m under structural beams.

One of the main distinctive features of the water tank is the large 8,500ft² arched, corrugated industrial roofs, with large arches.

The property was sold by Pugh Auctions in 2009 and bough by Bishoprock properties. They had an aspiration to turn this dark, unique, disused space into something different. To achieve this they decided to approach many different architectural practices within the region to get a wide range of different ideas. But this led to so many different architects all of different styles wanting to be part of the project, so Bishoprock decided that they would run the project as a competition.

The winner of the competition was Ian Simpson Architects, a Manchester based practice. Their sensitive approach and resonance with the local area where two of the main reasons they were selected as the winners.

Views from the site

 Design Brief:

Due to the minimal road access and the location of the site a commercial property was not a design solution for the tank. So after speaking to a local estate agent who stated there was scope in the area for luxury family homes, residential became the selected usage for the design brief.

To increase tourism to the area it was also decided that the smaller tank should be converted into a holiday cottage instead of a permanent residential dwelling.

It was also decided that as much of the existing tank structural walls should remain to minimise structural and construction upheavals and to reduce waste materials. It was also advised to keep the existing landscape slopes around the larger tank to reduce visual impact.


The Main Aspirations:         

–          To breathe life back into old, disused structures.

–          To create a luxury, high-quality family home within the larger tank.

–          To bring as much natural daylight as possible into the properties.

–          To make the most of the natural surroundings and views.

–          To create a high quality sustainable design.

–          To create a design which is seamlessly integrated with its surroundings.

–          To retain as much of the existing structures as possible.

The Proposal:

The proposal that has been made to the council is for 2 residential dwellings, one being a large luxury family home in the larger disused tank and the other being a small holiday let property in the small tank and existing dwelling on the site.

Cottage Plans

 The Holiday Let:

The small dwelling and the smaller tank are going to be converted into a holiday let on the site. The exiting building and tank are going to be cleaned and revitalised and the bricked up windows uncovered.

The cottage will have a separate entrance from the larger dwelling and the existing iron railings will outline the boundaries of the site.

The entrance to the property will be on ground floor level, directly into the kitchen area. On ground floor level there will also be a wash room and a discreet conservatory with a lounge area. Within the lounge area there will be a sofa bed which allows disabled guests use the facilities.

From the ground floor level there will also be a spiral staircase which leads to the smaller water tank underground. This tank will contain 2 bedrooms and a bathroom, with a series of roof lights allowing natural daylight into the tank.

The Family Home:

The larger water tank will be converted into a large, luxury family home with 6 large double bedrooms. Within the tank another floor level has been added, meaning that there is a ground floor containing the living spaces and a first floor bedroom level.

The proposal aimed to keep as much of the exiting tank where possible to reduce structural upheaval, but due to the magnificent natural, rural views part of the western and north walls have been removed and replaced with light-weight glazing to maximise the views from the property and natural light. Using these light-weight glazing systems has also allowed the views to be framed and makes a unique feature of the property.

The existing 6 arched roof shape of the tank has also been retained, but the corrugated metal has been removed and replaced with a green roof. Doing this has made the landscape appear to extend over the building and has also reduced visual impact of the building. I also believe that one of the main existing features of this water tank is the arched roof and to keep this style and shape just emphasises the design. The new roof will be green and will be covered in wildflowers and grasses to increase biodiversity. The roof will also include roof lights in areas to increase natural light going into the property.

The sloped landscape shielding the tank is also going to be retained and extended in areas, although this has been removed on the western elevation and partially on the northern elevation. All of the ground floor of the tank will be shielding by the landscape excluding the western side and on first floor level only the northern side will be visible. These sloping sides mask the tank and enhance the countryside, minimising visual impact and the also secure privacy from the access road and public footpath.

The main pedestrian entrance to the property and garage is on the southern side and at ground floor level. The garage and workshops are deeper penetrated into the darker eastern side, whilst the pedestrian entrance opens up to a double height, light entrance foyer. Within the entrance foyer there is a spiral staircase which leads up to first floor level, there is also a pod containing a cloak room, pantry and downstairs wc. To the west there is large open plan living space containing the kitchen, dining, living and snug areas which open up to a outdoor terrace with a brise soleil. This is a double height, full glazed space with views over the Fylde Coast and Irish Sea and maximum natural light. Also on the ground floor there is a swimming pool, steam and sauna room, gym, utility and a games and cinema room.

On the first floor there a 6 large bedrooms all with ensuite facilities and 4 having walk 9in wardrobe facilities, circulated around a large landing area. There are 2 staircases leading to the first floor one being in the main entrance foyer and a smaller one being deeper penetrated into the building. The 3 bedrooms to the North of the building all have open, framed views towards Nicky Nook and Forest of Bowland, this is due to part of the northern elevation being removed and glazed. On the first floor there is also a library and study area which are elevated and articulated above the kitchen space.


I personally have a strong passion about underground buildings and feel these disused spaces hold alot of potential, which is one of the reasons why I really like this design proposal. I believe the architects have tackled the project with alot of sensitivity, passion and creativity, which is shown in all aspects of the design.

My main features of the project which I like are:

–          How the architects have retained alot of the main structural components of the existing tanks. I believe this is important as this is history and is also the main feature and therefore this shouldn’t be forgotten. When doing a building conversion I believe you should work with the building and not make the building work with you, as if this is your attitude you’re better off starting from scratch.

–          I also like how the architects have considered the natural surroundings of the tank and therefore maximised the views from the building, kept the elevated site and blended the tank in with tank to minimise visual impact.

–          I also like the openness of the interior layout as I feel this highly reflect the location of the property and atmosphere. I don’t feel that the property would work as well if there were lots of restraints being walls due to being underground.

To be picky:

Just to be picky within the design and access statement they stated that water was going to be a main feature of the design to reflect the previous usage of the tank. But to me personally this hasn’t been communication and reflected very well and within the design I would have made this a key factor and therefore would have enhanced the swimming pool and other water aspects more.

I overall really like the design and look forward to hearing and seeing more in regards to this in the future.

With Thanks to:

Wyre Borough Council, Bishoprock Properties and Ian Simpson Architects Ltd

2 Responses to “Ian Simpson Architects: Water storage tank conversion”
  1. Gaynor says:

    Hi, Did this project get the go-ahead? I am considering buying a disused water tank near a national park so would love to hear from you! Gaynor

  2. Hi, it was a project which was submitted close to me. I was just reviewing the use of existing buildings and the design in my blog post. However I don’t believe the project has been started yet. Hope you’ve had better luck with your project. Suzi

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