Wysing Arts Centre
Wysing Arts Centre’s new studio block provides a striking yet sympathetic counterpoint to existing converted farm buildings in the Cambridgeshire countryside. The building comprises 10 artist studios and is rationally planned and constructed utilizing commonplace building techniques, deployed with rigor and originality. Wysing Arts Centre is a visionary arts centre located in the countryside eight miles west of Cambridge. The centre’s premises - 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 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 previously commissioned feasibility study placed the new facilities toward the rear of the site. This approach was rejected in favour of 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 new buildings are informally grouped with the existing buildings to form a number of external spaces of varying enclosure and character. Responding to the brief, which called for a ‘serious’ building, the principal façade of the new studio-block is an ordered rectilinear elevation of 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 adjacency of the grade II listed farmhouse meant the local authority conservation department took a keen interest in the design, however the historical reference expressed in contemporary language helped gain planning permission at the first committee hearing. 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, the design intent is 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 lacquered Douglas fir. The spaces are reminiscent of the urban warehouse spaces frequently inhabited by artists working in the city. The studio building’s total floor area is 570 sqm including 400 sqm of accommodation and a further 170 sqm of external circulation / covered deck space. At a total cost of GB£750,000, the studio building’s cost per sq metre equates to under GB£1,315 per sqm In 2004 Wysing Arts Centre had virtually no public presence, 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 recently completed buildings will raise the national profile of Wysing Arts Centre and will ensure the long-term sustainability of this valuable regional arts facility, creating the ideal environment for artists to research, develop and produce work. “I’m just blown away by the beauty of the architecture. It’s going to completely transform the visual arts in this area.` Astrid Bowron, Director OVADA Gallery, Oxford.


9 photos and 5 drawings

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