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…



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!



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!



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.

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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?”. 

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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.

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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.



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.


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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.




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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The Sketches of 2018


As well as being an intrinsic part of the way we design and communicate, sketching for us is about training ourselves to observe more closely; at a site we are researching, a building we are inspired by, or an urban space we are idling in. The act of reproducing a sketch necessitates an inquiring eye to establish patterns and hierarchies (and anomalies therein), to identify where design intent is rigorous and where it has been relaxed, to establish the origins and the ways it has been adapted.

Although we draw every day in the work that we do, the act of going out into the city and drawing what we see is not always easy to find time to do, and requires a bit of self-discipline. Back in January I set myself the challenge of doing a new (non-work) sketch every week for the whole of 2018, posting my progress on twitter with the tag #SketchAWeek2018. In retrospect given the peaks and troughs of my commitment this might have been better entitled #52SketchesIn2018. We are now entering September, and having totted up my progress to date I have done 26 sketches in the 36 weeks of the year so far. So shame on me, and time now to pull my socks up as we head into Autumn!

I share with you here the story so far. It is interesting to see them side by side, and certainly there is a spectrum of quality (!), but as I tell the students I work with at UWE – sketching is about the process, and not the end product. Sometimes a quick and scribbly 30 second snapshot can say a lot more about the atmosphere and vitality of a space than a more considered 30 minute composition.



Postcard from a new home


Connolly Wellingham have recently acquired new office space at Spike Island Arts Centre in Bristol, and are in the process of making this creative hub a base of operations for the practice. Anyone who knows Bristol well will likely have visited or at least heard of Spike Island, and we feel incredibly privileged to bring our work to such a culturally engaged and creatively active environment.

The arts centre is located on the ‘island’ of the same name; the thin wedge of land between the original course of the River Avon, and the ‘New Cut’ tidal diversion established in 1809 in order to convert the main river into the Floating Harbour. This harbourside area was still a working dock up until its closure in 1973, and the building that houses Spike Island Arts Centre was constructed as a dock-side tea packing warehouse for Brooke Bond Tea Company in 1960. The industrial use continued until 1990 when the factory closed, and the building sat empty until it was acquired by a group of local artists in 1998.

The refurbishment of ex-industrial spaces for artist use is a common one, particularly in areas of the inner city that experienced steady decline toward the end of the 20th Century. The refurbishment of the factory was overseen by Caruso St.John architects, a practice we admire - with a strong reputation in the arts sector. The works display many of the intelligently focused and frugal details which characterise so many of their successful collaborations with arts groups. The re-appropriation of the abandoned industrial space for new arts use and creative enterprise is a great example of the reuse work that we are passionate about as a young practice, and we enjoy learning from the building every day that we inhabit it.


In addition to the architectural values we draw upon, the programme of SIAC’s exhibitions and events make for a rich, creative environment within which to immerse ourselves and our work. We have been here for a month now and have immediately benefitted from the exhibitions on our doorstep.

Upon our arrival at our new home the gallery was exhibiting the recent works of sculptor Zoe Paul, whose work is steeped in the domestic and homely characteristics of architecture and anthropology. We were particularly struck by a series of tapestries woven into the armatures of reclaimed fridge shelves and oven grills. These pieces shared many conceptual similarities with our own work; the salvaging and repurposing of found objects, the elevation of the worn and forgotten into something extraordinary and unforeseen, the use of an existing condition from which to grow a new aesthetic identity, the composition of new elements and their balance against the retention and revelation of the existing, the careful consideration of how these elements physically connect with one another, and the delight to be drawn from curating authentic fabric – what was previously rusted and worthless, now a rich surface of texture and time.


We returned from our lunch break truly invigorated.

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