Pier Arts Centre
"It may be small, but it fits so beautifully in its setting. I went to see it in August last year and it's in a tiny little fishing town. The architects Reiach and Hall have managed to take a modern art gallery and fit it into a small sliver of space. They've made it echo the roof shapes of the fishing buildings on either side. It's subtle and, because it's not in a major city, it's not by any of the big names; it's just beautiful." Joan Bakewell, Independent Newspaper, 13th May 2008 In the first 7 weeks since re-opening, a staggering 16,500 people visited the £2.9M restoration, refurbishment and new-build of Orkney’s internationally acclaimed Pier Arts Centre. Within a conservation area of outstanding merit, the Pier Arts Centre is designed to be strikingly modern, yet complement the surrounding architecture – the stone houses & boat sheds that give Stromness its unique appeal. We were interested in a building which was at once familiar yet said something new. The project works at both a local and international level. We explored this through working with a recognisable form transformed through its materiality & detail. To a lowland Scot, The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, is located in the far north, a place more Scandinavian than Scots. To an Orcadian however, the Orkney Islands lie on the southern threshold of a more vivid, imaginative North. We view our work through the mirror of a clear northern modernism. We continue to be interested in the simple resolution and appropriateness of an architectural proposition. Although relatively modest in scale and funding, the Pier Arts Centre is a highly significant project for us. It offers us a unique opportunity to engage with a more poetic architecture; an architecture we feel that is embedded not only in its location but also in the psyche of its community. We worked quietly and closely with the client group to realise a clear vision. Brief : The town of Stromness has a unique foreshore characterised by small stone piers that describe the high & low water marks along the northern edge of the protected Hamnavoe inlet. The Pier Arts Centre occupies a strategic position within this fringe, adjacent to the Pier Head, the focal point of arrival in Stromness and the beginning of its remarkable linear urban development along the Hamnavoe. The Pier Arts Centre project is a combination of permanent gallery space for the collection and new temporary galleries. The commission, won through competitive interview in 2000, involved the complete refurbishment of the historic pier buildings, along with a new gallery structure. The permanent galleries house a collection of British contemporary art of international status. The remarkable core of the collection stems from the private collection of the centre’s founder, Margaret Gardiner 1904-2005. The requirement to achieve current museum standards of security & environment for care of the collection, expand and have barrier free access & equal access for the community were essential to the project. Constraints, opportunities and responses : We understand buildings to be made up of rooms. Tall rooms, long low rooms with views out to the town or to the sea, quiet rooms, intimate rooms and so on. The Pier Gallery in effect already had a collection of very fine rooms, realised through the original & beautiful conversion of the B-listed stone net-house done in the late 1970’s by Kate Heron and Axel Burrough. Although we had to reduce these buildings back to their basic structure to then bring the fabric and services up to the requirements of a 21st century museum we were determined to carefully reinstate the original interiors. We viewed these rooms as being part of this unique collection. The plan of the building is in effect three separate but connected elements: a building that is part of Stomness’s main street, Victoria Street and two parallel buildings that extend from the street towards the Hamnavoe. The street building, we called the meeting house, contains entry, administration, library and meeting rooms along with an artists studio and flat. The original Pier building, the strong house, contains the collection while the new building, the black house, contains temporary gallery space along with back of house facilities and in the attic storey the archive and collection storage. The form of the new building adopts a familiar guise; a simple pitched roof recalls a traditional waterfront warehouse. Its familiarity however is transformed and undermined through a façade that shifts from solid to void; black patinated zinc ribs alternate with translucent glass infills. Our intention was to realise a building that is grounded in its location yet through a lightness of touch it has a resonance with the place. The glazed façade describes the linear circulation strategy that connects all three buildings while exposing a skeletal structure. The spacing of the ribs recalls the original gallery’s rafters. The new building asserts its presence without undermining the original pier building. When viewed gable on the new building is solid but begins to melt as the viewer moves allowing it to fade as the original pier building comes into view. The form of the new building is familiar yet it takes on the black vestment of a dignified and valued elder. While giving a clue that this is a cultural building it also has a quality that is ambivalent and melancholic. The meeting house onto Victoria Street is the antithesis of the black house, all is white. Again this expression is recognisable, the whitewashing of vernacular buildings is very familiar yet it too has an uncanny air about it. The streets of Stromness are either stone or dull coloured render, the whiteness of the Pier Arts Centre has a hint of the spectre. Internally the spaces are seen as a backdrop to the art. The materials and surfaces are bleached or translucent. Within these muted spaces there are moments of clarity with clear views out to the Hamnavoe, a connection to the north.


22 photos and 8 drawings

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