Wysing Arts Centre (WAC), a thriving and visionary rural arts centresituated on the outskirts of Cambridge in Bourn, has relaunched following a £1.7million redevelopment programme with new buildings designed by London based architecture practice Hawkins\Brown.
Shortly after the relaunch principal funder - Arts Council England, East – announced a boost in core funding to the organisation, counting Wysing Arts Centre among the 35 centres of excellence in the region to benefit from a £32 million investment programme 2008-11.
The rural arts centre in Cambridgeshire has provided accommodation and support to artists since 1989 and has made a significant contribution to the UK’s visual arts output. With new facilities in place Wysing Arts Centre will fast establish itself as a national and international centre of excellence for the development of artists, making an impact beyond its geographical location, as well as closer to home.
Hawkins\Brown’s new studio-block and reception provide a striking yet sympathetic counterpoint to existing converted farm buildings on the centre’s 11.5 acre site in the heart of Cambridgeshire countryside.
With a strong track record on other rural arts projects including the acclaimed Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire, Hawkins Brown were appointed in February 2004 after a high profile competitive interview.
The £1.25 million construction programme will ensure the long-term sustainability of this valuable regional arts centre, creating the ideal environment for artists to research, develop and produce work.
When Wysing Arts selected Hawkins\Brown to masterplan the re-development of their premises, the centre had outgrown its dilapidated building stock. The centre had virtually no public profile – even locals in the nearby village had understood the hand painted ‘Wysing Arts’ sign on the front of one of the buildings to indicate a crayon factory. The site, an old farm consisting of 11 acres of low grade arable land, a grade II listed farmhouse and several other farm buildings, was purchased by the founders of the centre in 1988 to provide cheap artist studio space for individual artists. However by 2004 the artists were struggling to work in converted cowsheds with no insulation or heating, no water supply or drainage, poor lighting and in some cases no natural light (a testament to the centre’s resourcefulness).
Hawkins\Brown’s first strategic move was the proposal to demolish the large existing cowsheds to the front of the site and to position the new studio-block in this key location. This increased both the visibility of the farmhouse and the principle activity of the centre – artistic production.
The two new structures are informally grouped with the existing buildings to form a number of external spaces of varying enclosure and character. The provision of individual buildings has a number of advantages: it provides an appropriate sense of scale and place, it allowed easy phasing of construction, and it creates external circulation routes and thus re-connects the building user with the centre’s unique location in the Cambridge countryside
Responding to the brief, which called for a ‘serious’ building, the principal façade of the new studio-block is an ordered rectilinear timber elevation with full height glazed panels. Although there is a clear contrast with the adjacent farmhouse, the composition of the studio-block facade refers to the aesthetic of the farmhouse’s timber frame structure in material, proportion and rhythm.
The studio-block’s structure is directly expressed. Transverse masonry walls support the pre-cast concrete plank floor and roof; the long elevations are clad with a modular, glulam frame in-filled with timber windows and ventilation louvres stained to match the farmhouse structure. To the south of the building a timber deck provides access to the studios and shade from direct sunlight.
Internally Hawkins\Brown have strived for uncluttered simplicity, generous proportions and maximum day-lighting. The interior is robustly detailed – structural walls are plastered, concrete soffits are generally left exposed and the interior of the timber facades is of laquered Douglas fir. The spaces are reminiscent of the urban warehouse spaces frequently inhabited by artists working in the city.
Midway through the construction of the studio-block, Wysing Arts secured additional funding allowing the Reception block to proceed. In order to fast-track completion, the whole building was instructed as a variation to the main contract.
The Reception building is a single story steel frame shed clad in profiled steel sheet. The pitched roofed form is typical of the local farm-building vernacular and sits easily with the adjacent gallery. Within this shed-like structure timber clad accommodation ‘boxes’ are inserted to house office, WC and kitchen facilities.
Commenting on the scheme, Jason Martin, Project Architect and Associate, Hawkins Brown said:
“We have brought to the area a building which provides a public statement about Wysing Arts Centre’s high ambitions and forward thinking attitude. Internally we have strived for uncluttered simplicity, generous proportions, maximum day-lighting and beautiful materials – in short an environment conducive to the artists’ creative process”.