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June 01, 2022 | 5 min read

Repurposing a listed building to create sustainable, 21st-century homes: Brandon Yard

A deep dive into one of Acorn's signature developments, Brandon Yard in the heart of Bristol’s City Docks Conservation Area.

By Will Carter
Brandon Yard, Bristol - Acorn Property Invest
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Acorn is one of only a handful of housebuilders in the UK with the expertise - and the passion - to successfully convert a Grade II-listed building into sustainable homes fit for the 21st century and beyond.

Acorn completed the development of Brandon Yard, Bristol in April 2019 after an 18-month build. The site comprises three buildings, of which two are Grade II-listed (West Purifier House and Engine House) and the third was a sensitively designed new build to complement the existing site. The fifty-eight 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and two houses are on a prime site in the heart of Bristol’s City Docks Conservation Area, on the northern section of Bristol’s Floating Harbour overlooking Brunel’s SS Great Britain.


Rich industrial past

When Acorn acquired the site of the former Bristol & Clifton Gaslight Company, it had lain derelict for over 40 years. Gas had been produced there, using coal and then water, from the mid-19th century until the gasworks fell into decline in the 1960s and ultimately closed in 1970.

Thanks to its proximity to the river, the site has a rich industrial past. It originally housed a limekiln glassworks from the 17th century until the building was demolished in 1838, and was then briefly converted for use as a timber yard before moving to gas production.

The buildings at Brandon Yard date from this period. At West Purifier House, as the name suggests, impurities were removed from the gas. Engine House housed the boilers, steam engine and exhauster pumps, which pumped the gas into the pipe network. Both were built using locally-sourced, square-coursed Pennant stone, with a detached brick chimney that Acorn restored and retained as a feature of the development.

The site’s bordering streets still retain the names Lime Kiln Road and Gasworks Lane.


Acorn preserved the site’s history while sensitively modernising it

With only the external structures and boundary wall having listed status, the site presented a blank canvas upon which to work. Acorn hired a local award-winning architect specialising in the conversion of historic industrial buildings (including the neighbouring Purifier House) to design contemporary dwellings that would bring the site to life while respecting its heritage. Materials were carefully selected in a palette that complemented the monumental quality of the old stonework, and glazing was used throughout to add light and space.

West Purifier House was renamed Oculus House after the magnificent circular windows on the gable ends. Engine House was converted into two, two-bedroom houses that conserve as much of the original brickwork as possible, each with a terrace overlooking the harbourside.

And in a nod to the site’s past, the newly-built New Retort House was named after the dry distillation device that is used in the manufacture of gas by heating coal in the absence of air. The building was designed with double height bays framed with a brick carefully selected to highlight the colours and character of the stone, infilled with floor to ceiling glazing. Metal panels were used to reflect the industrial character of the site, and the building was given a contemporary feel with river-facing balconies, terraces and a sleek floating roof.


Sustainability was a key feature of Acorn’s vision for Brandon Yard

In line with our commitment to driving down the carbon footprint of our homes, we at Acorn believe passionately in re-using wherever possible. The majority of our projects are on brownfield sites, thereby minimising disruption to the local environment. And by repurposing an existing building wherever possible, we save between 50%-70% of embodied carbon emissions (the CO₂ emitted prior to a building becoming operational i.e. during the construction process) compared with a new-build scheme.

To minimise car usage, we believe that a commitment to sustainability should involve building in central locations such as Brandon Yard, wherever we can. We were, in addition, able to significantly improve the operational energy efficiency of the existing buildings at Brandon Yard through the installation of double glazing and modern levels of insulation and heating and ventilation technology. Here, for example, we transformed the derelict Oculus House into EPC B- and C-rated dwellings.

Sustainable features of the project include:

  • Five EV charging points and extensive cycle storage in the undercroft.
  • Communal boilers with Heat Interface Units (HIUs) in each apartment rather than individual boilers. HIUs act as a bridge between a central boiler and the hot water outlets in individual apartments. By delivering hot water on demand they reduce energy wastage from heat build-up or dissipation after use, and allow for eco-friendly temperature control.
  • Extensive glazing, including a long, glazed roof gallery at Oculus House, which was used to wash light into the interiors, thereby reducing reliance on electric lighting. A small touch, but the windows in both Engine House and Oculus House were given splayed reveals for that same reason.
  • Generous lining of external walls and of the steel frame in New Retort House, to produce U-values that exceed current regulations on insulation.
  • Photovoltaic (solar) panels on the flat roof of New Retort House.
  • Low energy LED lighting throughout.
  • An EPC energy rating of B in the apartments at New Retort House.
  • Significant green planting throughout, including native species and bee-friendly planting and low hedges to improve the local micro-climate of this formerly derelict site.
  • Improvements to the public realm, with a communal paved and landscaped courtyard featuring benches and lighting surrounded by multi-stem trees, and an improved path to open up the harbourside to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • A £519,000 contribution to fund infrastructure improvements, facilities and services in the city, as well as an off-site affordable housing contribution of £398,000.


We are proud to note that Brandon Yard has won several prestigious industry awards:

  • Best Residential Development (Bristol Property Awards 2019)
  • Development of the Year (RESI Awards 2019)
  • Small Residential Development of the Year (Insider South West Residential Property Awards 2020)
  • Design Award (Bristol Civic Society 2021) - one of only three projects to receive this accolade


Please visit our website for more information on Acorn’s live investment opportunities featuring listed building conversions in Cornwall (Old County Hall, Truro) and Devon (Oliver Buildings, Barnstaple).

Take a closer look at Brandon Yard and find out more about Acorn’s vision: The Benefits of Re-using Existing Buildings



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