The Long Gallery

 

In 2019 Connolly Wellingham submitted proposals to an open-call ideas competition for a new cultural heritage centre on a prominent site in Pembroke, southwest Wales. The brief aims to catalyse the regeneration of the town’s Quays through the introduction of a mixed-use Henry Tudor Heritage Centre and Library, on a back-yard plot adjacent to the Norman Castle and overlooking the Pembroke River.

The steeply sloping site connects the river-side Quays to the north, across a ten-metre level change, up to the High Street to the south, and spans three historically distinct medieval burgage plots. Aside from an adjacency to Henry VII’s birthplace, the site is rich in accrued narrative history, with physical ties to the Norman castle, the medieval urban grid, the Georgian shop-fronts, the industrial Quayside, and archaeological remains of the 19thC water mill.

Connolly Wellingham’s proposal seeks to connect all elements of the site’s complex level changes with a single cascading circulation block, that we refer to as ‘the long gallery’; relieving the pressure on the existing listed buildings and unlocking full access to the heritage assets for the first time. This block forms the ‘connective tissue’ that unites the Henry Tudor heritage centre in the refurbished listed buildings at street level, with the Library and Archive overlooking the quiet central courtyard, and on down to the wide open public realm of the riverside.

The largest part of the site is carved out to make space for a double height ‘Tudor Hall’, housing café, temporary exhibition and events spaces, and enjoying direct access out to the Castle gardens to the west. The hall is crowned with a clerestory lantern, marrying traditional timber carpentry techniques with contemporary structural truss design, and playfully twisting the visual language of the gabled Tudor façade. 

 

RetroFirst

 

The Architects Journal has announced the launch of a campaign this week to lobby for the prioritisation of architectural retrofit over and above the more carbon intensive process of demolition and new build - as a means to further the objectives of the wider ‘Architects Declare’ movement to improve the carbon consumption of the construction industry. We have been highly enthused to read this week’s announcements and wholeheartedly endorse the ‘Retrofirst’ campaign ambitions; many of which have been formative in our own decision to found a studio with a focused expertise in creative reuse, refurbishment, conservation and the capitalisation upon the potential of existing fabric.

The responsibility of the construction industry for significant portions of the UK’s carbon emissions and resource consumption is widely acknowledged, as has the potential role of retrofit in meeting the country’s carbon reduction commitments (further reading: www.ukgbc.org/climate-change).  VAT tax exemption for new build contracts were introduced as part of a policy designed to reboot the construction industry following the 2008 financial crash, and to turbo-charge housebuilding to meet the UK’s targets for countering the on-going housing crisis. A negative side-effect of these well-meaning but short-sighted policies is the financial penalisation of retrofit schemes; which secure construction jobs and create homes just as readily, but through significantly more sparing low-energy means.

The AJ campaign is calling on Government to 1) reverse the VAT incentives to make retrofit the more economical first choice for developers, 2) to tailor National Planning Policy to prioritise schemes that upgrade and reuse existing stock, and 3) to steer the course of considerable public procurement toward retrofit solutions across the country.

Our philosophy at CWa has always been to reuse first, and we are proud to say that all of the projects currently on our books deal with sensitive refurbishment and the reuse or expansion of existing fabric. For us the benefits of reuse are as much about cultural legacy as they are about conservation of resources. We believe that the most enjoyable parts of our cities are those which have evolved through the accretion of countless phases of frugal adaptation, slowly acquiring a richness and authenticity that is impossible to replicate in the most diligently designed new building. Approaching our design practice from this starting point, we see work with existing fabric (of any age or quality) as the best way to preserve, improve and pass-on a meaningful ‘sense of place’.

Sadly much of the fabric constructed in our cities in the last 50 years is seldom given the chance to establish itself as part of that cultural identity, before it is razed to the ground and replaced by new higher density development - that is often only of very marginally improved appearance or utility. These existing buildings, although usually unloved by todays trends and tastes, have no hope for acquiring an aged legitimacy without the wear of good use, the care of regular upkeep, and frankly the time to grow old. Successful precedents abound of schemes that upgrade problematic mid-20th century buildings by slashing their energy consumption and improving their appearance both internally for users and residents and outwardly to the wider urban realm.

The need to densify our existing city centres is often cited as the insurmountable challenge of retrofit, and the carte-blanche upon which the UK’s recent tower building boom has been delivered. But again interesting projects are already unlocking the latent potential of our built environment, focusing on a slower paced and more evenly spread gradual increase in density - by developing in, on and around our existing building stock, rather than relying on the ‘silver bullet’ of single sites of conspicuous high-rise.

WeCanMake – establishing models for citizen-led housing development on micro-sites too small to interest more traditional market-led developers.  https://wecanmake.org/

WeCanMake – establishing models for citizen-led housing development on micro-sites too small to interest more traditional market-led developers. https://wecanmake.org/

Skyroom – recently published a white paper exploring the provision of homes on London’s disused rooftops.  https://riseup.skyroom.london/

Skyroom – recently published a white paper exploring the provision of homes on London’s disused rooftops. https://riseup.skyroom.london/

CWa support for this movement is twofold; we believe in the ethical responsibility of the construction industry to safeguard our existing resources, and we believe in the culturally enriching capacity of reuse to strengthen the authenticity of our towns and cities – no matter what the building. We would be very interested to collaborate with any building owners who would like to improve the environmental performance of their assets, whilst investigating opportunities for delivering increased density and the introduction of new complementary uses.

Charlie

 

A Year at Spike

 

This month, we celebrated our first full year at Spike Design, as well as cycle to work day. The latter has been a particularly big one for me, but more on that later...

I think its fair to say, we have loved our first year here. The arts, the workshops, the communities (the café!), form an incredible backdrop to our working life. It is a provocative, artistic, and “makerly” setting that enriches our work and practice as we continue to grow.

We receive clients, craftspeople, and students here: Always listening to one another, and collectively building learning, enthusiasm, and excitement for whatever we go on to do together. If Spike is anything, it is collaborative. If you are reading this and have never visited Spike Island - please consider this an open invite to pop in and see our space!

Through my work at the University of Bath, it was fun to see this year’s 4th year architecture students’ project was 400m from our studio too! There was some excellent work on show - very much stimulated by such an engaging site.

This past year has been a big change for me too: I have commuted to Spike by bike regularly right through the past 12 months. The excellent Bath – Bristol Cycle path is off the main road, snaking through some beautiful parts of city and countryside. Be they bright and frosty December mornings, or balmy July evenings, it is a pleasure. The ride is a good time to think of the day’s tasks, or design conundrums, or to just enjoy fleeting glimpses of jays, goldfinches, or foxes.

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My bike computer says I’ve ridden nearly 6000km over the year. I definitely feel better for it- both mentally and physically; but more importantly I reckon that’s a saving of around three quarters of a ton of CO2 when compared to a commute by car. At least, that’s the heartening statistic I cling to, on those particularly cold, wet, and windy days…

Ferg

 

Totnes Castle

 

Connolly Wellingham have recently assisted English Heritage with the submission of Planning Permission and Scheduled Monument Consent at Totnes Castle. The castle is situated on a strategic promontory overlooking the River Dart, with sweeping views across the scenic valley. It was built 900 years ago during the Norman Conquest and it is a fine example of a motte-and-bailey castle, with a later stone keep.

We couldn’t resist the chance to sketch the rooftops of old town Totnes (just one of the amazing views from the top of the keep) during a day of surveying earlier this summer!

Charlie

 

Wish you were here

 

Connolly Wellingham were recently shortlisted for an appointment leading the conservation of historic shopfronts in Weston-Super-Mare’s Heritage Action Zone, covering the town’s Grove, High Street and Orchard Meadows districts. Although the team were disappointed not to be awarded the position, we very much enjoyed our time immersing ourselves in the architectural heritage of this Victorian seaside destination. We prepared these quick sketches to illustrate the wealth of character that we discovered on our exploratory visits through the town centre.

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Weston Super Mare is one of several coastal towns that are being increasingly recognised for their contribution to British heritage, whilst also being identified as being ‘at risk’ due to lack of appropriate protection and strategic vision over the last 30 years. Fortunately with initiatives like Historic England’s HAZ, these fortunes are being turned around. With many of these seaside towns in dire need of regenerative investment, the proposed conservation works aim to use the town’s heritage as the springboard from which to improve the prospects for a sustainable and culturally strengthened future.

The shopfronts of these destination towns are particularly significant to the glamour and atmosphere of their hey-days, as the physical faces designed to jostle with one another for the attention of the passing public. Bay windows and bowed frontages step out to greet the approaching pedestrians, whilst chamfered entrances and recessed niches pull them closer to the wares on display; the overall townscape is given a charmingly chaotic incoherence.

We wish Historic England the best of luck with their Heritage Action Zone and very much hope to work in this wonderful town in future!

Charlie

 

Outside in, inside out

 

Works on site continue apace on our Calf Shed conversion project in Wiltshire. For our young practice, this is an incredibly exciting time. Designs and details we have pored over for many months, and through many sketches, drawings and models are being made manifest by skilled builders. Our client- a professional dolls house maker- anticipates details and reads space as quickly as (if not quicker than!) we do.

The setting and scale of this little calf shed has been a delight: The ancient and pastoral setting of the Wansdyke (within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), surrounding the diminutive urban arrangement of this model farm. As a focus for work, business, and socialising, it often has the feel of a small village- such is its bustle.

Which brings me to a deeper reflection on why we have loved working at Shaw Farm.

1:500 scale

As the calf shed faces both into the yard, and out into the landscape, we have really enjoyed thinking carefully about how new elements within existing elevations say “hello” to these very different settings. These are matters of legibility at different scales, and of the degree of interaction these elevations have with their users. In each instance, we ask ourselves questions: “Am I well sheltered from the elements?”, “Is this a nice place to sit?”, “Am I a clear entrance?”, “What is my window looking at?”, “Do I enhance an understanding of this setting?”. 

1:50 scale

Once inside, the exercise has been one of making the home as simple to live in as possible, and of making careful judgements around open and closed space (as well as everything in between). A meandering open passage from the east to west extremities of the house has sought to retain a sense of the length of the historic calf shed- whilst punctuating this enfilade route with the small moments that make up the rituals of life. “Where is the morning light?”, “Where is my robe?”, “Where do I wash?”, “What do I see on my way to the kettle?”. We have worked hard to enhance these ordinary moments, via their exposure to their extraordinary context.

1:5 scale

In the detail, we have enjoyed investigating the humble, dignified, and quietly civic architecture of the farmstead. We have revelled in the overlaps between polite details, and agricultural details. As Scholars of the SPAB, we have also sought to ensure that new interventions support and sustain the historic fabric, and that moments of overlap between new and old are legible, but gently so. Breathability, sustainability, provenance and craftsmanship have been our watchwords. 

As architects, we love the theatre of life. Our homes are where we act- and interact- with our place and one another, most regularly. We are so lucky to be working with a client and a site so rich in those things, and so amenable to them.

Ferg.

 

The Ephebic Oath

 

“… My native land I will not leave a diminished heritage, but greater and better than when I received it. …”

The Ephebic Oath was sworn by the young Athenians of Classical Greece. This quote is part of a broader recital, but this section - or rather its underlying principle - always seems to sit at the back of my mind. As a promise to not only protect, but to add to one’s cultural legacy, it is an important premise for us as a practice: To preserve, and to enhance. 

As architects with a passion for the existing city, we continually reflect on our built environment and its cultural legacy. We are passionately committed to leaving our inherited fabric greater and better than we found it: Sensitive repair, raised fitness for purpose, and new layers that best frame their historic context; whilst speaking of our contemporary culture.  

The oath seems particularly relevant to the foundation of our studio.

Ferg

 
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Heresy and evolution

 

‘Let us condemn the heresy of workspaces in churches’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/23/heresy-workspaces-churches-trendy-pod

I was slightly disheartened to read the above comment piece criticising churches for broadening their appeal to both religious and secular communities, and it compelled me to defend the case for welcoming new uses into these ancient public buildings. Although the thrust of the article was directed against the potentially unhealthy changes to work patterns of millennial office users, it hinted at a disconcerting lack of awareness regarding the scale of the challenge currently faced by the UK’s churches, clergy and parishioners - even in wealthy and densely populated areas.

Although many commentators usually concede that new uses in under-utilised church spaces are a positive thing, they are often hugely restrictive as to what they feel appropriate or compatible uses might be. Many people love the romantic notion of solemn and quiet church interiors (in other words empty of people and activity), but rarely witness the daily life of the congregations that worship their regularly, and the necessary vitality that they require to survive.

Creating a welcoming environment for as many demographics as possible to use these amazing spaces (and if I were to be blunt – to generate revenue from them) is essential if we want future generations to enjoy them the way that we do – even if that is only culturally, rather than religiously. The suggestion that this sensitively managed evolution might be ‘heresy’ is clearly a provocation, but closer to the truth of some opinions than perhaps the author realises.  

I might also add to this the social benefits of placing a church’s outreach right in the middle of a mixture of everyday and commercial uses, which helps to reduce the stigma and increase the visibility of facilities such as food banks and homeless support. The vibrant cohabitation of the crypt café and night shelters at St.Martin in the Fields is a great example of this.

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To conclude I think workspaces in churches is a superb idea, and a great example of how low-impact and temporary or reversible infrastructure could help listed church buildings flexibly match their supply to the demands of their social contexts; be they the urbanites of Camden or the rural communities of Herefordshire valleys.

Intelligent design grounded in an appreciation of a church’s significance and a sympathy toward its mission will ensure any number of uses can co-exist happily side by side, without sacrificing the tranquil spiritual atmosphere that everybody needs from time to time.

If any churches in central Bristol are keen for us to put our money where our mouth is, please give us a call! It would be a privilege to work in such an exceptional environment.

Charlie

Images
http://www.ericparryarchitects.co.uk/projects/culture/st-martin-in-the-fields-wc2.html
https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/visit/cafe-in-the-crypt

 

Fergus Connolly appointed at Christ Church Spitalfields

 

It’s a privilege to announce that Fergus Connolly has been appointed Inspecting Architect to Grade 1 listed Christ Church Spitalfields in east London. The church was completed in 1729 to designs by Nicholas Hawksmoor and is widely considered a masterpiece of the English Baroque.

Fergus succeeds Michael Morrison, who has held the position for 20 years, and has stewarded Christ Church through several phases of meticulous conservation. Most recent works included his award winning reordering scheme, and oversight of the crypt refurbishment by Dow Jones Architects in 2015.  

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CWa look forward to working with the church and parish over the coming years; with an ambition to maintain its high standard of care, whilst gaining the deepest appreciation of both fabric and mission. Our practice recognises Christ Church as both a hugely significant piece of architecture, and as a incredibly vibrant hub of Christian outreach. It is an inspiration, and our focus, to be working in settings such as this. 

 

Owlpen plans approved

 

Connolly Wellingham Architects have received Planning and Listed Building Consent for an extension to a Grade II listed 15th Century manorial barn on the Owlpen Estate in Gloucestershire. The new structure will improve the Estate’s capacity to host a variety of cultural events, reduce reliance on temporary infrastructure, and lessen the pressure on the facilities of the historic barn.

The hall occupies a significant location on the site at the conclusion of the lime avenue, greeting arriving visitors with a new Cotswold stone gable. Behind this the hall is excavated into the sloping sides of the valley, greatly reducing the potential visual impact of a new building within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

 
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