TOWNER, EASTBOURNE The Towner is a new contemporary art museum. Forming a sequence of arts and conference buildings on the edge of the a park, Towner has delivered the long term aspiration to define a distinctive cultural quarter in Eastbourne. It is a stone's throw from the beach, adjacent to the Grade II* Listed Congress by Bryan & Norman Westwood & Partners 1963, which is cited in its Listing as being of national significance as one of five post-war International Modern Movement listed theatres. The design responds to the Devonshire Park Conservation Plan guidelines ‘ retain the intrinsic quality of the Devonshire Park area as a cultural quarter.’ It enhances this important focal point for the town which links together cultural and community facilities with sport, education and the seaside. Brief RMA won the competition for a site on the east side of the Congress but in the process proposed the benefits of moving to the more appropriate west side which was adopted as the better option. The brief called for full art storage and support spaces for the Towner’s permanent collection to allow the public to view the Gallery’s entire collection for the first time. Accessibility to this collection and around the building itself was a driving principal of the design. Towner is a truly public building with few spaces left “behind the scenes.` This is most clearly illustrated by the large 6 ton goods lift required for art handling that has been upgraded so that it becomes an unusual passenger lift capable of accommodating a class of thirty school children and offers a framed view up to Beachy Head. In order to support the the art display and storage spaces there are specialist art studios and workshops. Likewise, in order to support the strong community outreach programmes developed by Towner various education and community spaces were developed in consultation with local user groups. One such space is enclosed on one side by a sliding folding acoustic screen which can open out to double the size of the café and open up the views through the fully glazed sliding wall. The Design Concept The plan maximizes the available site by building up to the curving pavement perimeter to the west which offered the opportunity of exploiting views and articulating the expressive double curve in the facade. To the east, the large, dedicated galleries are stacked vertically adjacent to the Congress Theatre, allowing connections between the buildings on all floors and affording the deceptively deep plan of 30m. Expressing the function of these spaces through contrasting elevational treatments established one of the key relationships with the Modernist Traditions of the neighbouring Congress Theatre. Independent access at ground floor level encourages multifunctional uses ranging from being the gateway to the International Tennis Tournaments, to art exhibitions, to displaying exhibitions in conjunction with the Theatre. The community spaces and meeting rooms are arranged over the top two floors adjacent to the art spaces, with the cafe and roof terrace opening out to views across the Devonshire Park and the South Downs. Access for the circulation of large artworks and the consideration of visitor experiences resulted in a clear sequence of spatial arrangements. Working with the orientation of the existing building key views and axes could be exploited, for example, out through the triple height glazing to the spire across the tennis club to the north, or west from the 2nd Floor gallery through 4m glass doors and through the café terrace to Beachy Head. The north south axis which terminates in the large vertical windows and stairs reinforces the concept of the flexible “Art Box,` articulated in the north and south facades by the black zinc cladding. The relationship of the Art Box to the transparency of the Congress is a counterpoint which emphasises the sequence of buildings recognized in the Conservation Plan. The contrasting inside-outside relationships of the two buildings may be turned around further with the possibility of projecting visuals onto the zinc box. Materials The materials and finishes at the Towner continue the tradition of innovation in concrete design but complements rather than imitates the Congress Theatre. The art spaces are expressed internally by 15m reinforced concrete beams and externally by black zinc cladding. A two storey window cut into the heavily rusticated concrete tiles of the Theatre forms the connection between the two facades. Around the other two sides of the art box, glazed light strips articulate the box further and echo the illuminated signage of the theatre at night. These light strips, like the “artificial sky` light boxes in the galleries and the innovative lighting in the foyer, can be individually controlled and will become animated signs or art installations in themselves. The niches and projections pushed and pulled through the west elevation are generated by views, the glazed lift and the café terrace. Each move is articulated by the white render which appears soft in comparison to the black zinc, sharp fenestration and crisp concrete. This “superfine` architectural concrete is used to interlock with the theatre at ground level and then runs along and up through the entrance area forming the wall that bisects the building. This wall runs from outside to inside where it reflects daylight or discrete artificial light off its smooth surface and forms a feature which defines the spatial configuration of the building and assists in user orientation, not least with the full height glazing at each end. The principal construction method of reinforced concrete offers a good thermal sink which helps to regulate the internal temperature and humidity conditions that are critical for displaying and working with art. As well as considering Eastbourne as being one of the sunniest places in the UK, building by the exposed seaside required the specification of materials and finishes to carefully consider the effects of increased weathering forces.


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