Local Heroes


By preserving the past and the places we care about, we can form a bridge of continuity from the past to the present – and beyond. Veronica Simpson takes us on a journey through a selection of these community-enriching spaces.


HOW DO we look after the things we love? How do we demonstrate their value to us, individually and collectively? What and who are the local heroes in your life and how do you honour them?

Nothing boosts public morale quite like shining a spotlight on the things that bring us cheer, give our lives meaning, or embody principals that we feel particularly need to be expressed. In the golden age of Victorian civic construction, there was a flourishing of handsome town halls, theatres, churches, libraries, hospitals, schools and museums; although, to be fair, much of this could be viewed as an exercise in virtue-signalling, to mask the terrible toll taken on those who laboured in the smoke-belching factories and coal mines that helped to fund them.

But where are the philanthropists of today, the 21st century equivalents of Andrew Carnegie, with his 2,509 libraries, or the great entertainment impresarios with their glittering theatres and opera houses? With civic budgets around the world choked by ongoing economic uncertainty, few of us can rely on local or national governments for big budget projects to enrich our lives – although there are exceptions.

Norway, a country widely admired for the way in which it has husbanded its oil resources, sharing the benefits with its populace as part of its Sovereign Wealth Fund, is one of those exceptions. Since 2020, three major cultural buildings have opened along Oslo’s regenerating harbour front. In 2020, a stunning new library opened, the Deichman Bjorvika, designed by Atelier Oslo and Lundhagem, which offers rich resources across its five storeys, including a cinema and 200-seat auditorium in the basement, cafes, restaurant, recording studios, gaming rooms and a meditation space holding unread manuscripts (the Silent Room, see FX Brief Encounters September 2022 issue); in 2021, one huge museum dedicated to Norway’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch, arrived, designed by Spanish architects Estudio Herreros; and June 2022 saw the opening of Norway’s new National Museum. Only the biggest space for art and design in the whole of Scandinavia, the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design offers 54,600 sq m of exhibition and congregation space, in a massive, three storey structure by German architects Kleihues + Schuwerk.

Its £500m budget caused some raised eyebrows, as did the eight year delay in its construction, but having had the pleasure of visiting the museum on its first, public opening weekend, I can vouch for the ease, elegance and comfort of its interiors and wayfinding, the logic and clarity of its thematic interpretation, which facilitates and maintains your levels of interest as you are guided smoothly and intuitively through the displays of 6,500 objects. But – most importantly – I can also vouch for the way in which its collections of both international and Norwegian art, craft and design manage to foreground the global economic and social contexts and movements which were inspiring and educating the country’s artisans and artists, while celebrating showing that its home-grown talent more than measures up alongside their non-Norwegian peers. There is so much more to Norwegian art than just Munch, as its second floor shows. And so does the glowing glass envelope of the third floor, filled with the work of 147 contemporary Norwegian artists or collectives, for the opening show: I Call it Art. These artists were recruited through a major programme of studio visits and a nationwide open call, flushing out – on an unprecedented scale – the wealth of contemporary practitioners, demonstrating the fruits of the Norwegian government’s unique system of artist stipends (established artists receive a salary to maintain their practice when their income falls below a certain and fairly generous threshold).

This whole museum is, effectively, a celebration of the contribution of visual culture to Norwegian hearts, minds and eyes. As Karin Hindsbo, the museum’s director, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row in June, said:

‘We are opening a new national museum in Norway, it will only happen once. We need to make this a declaration of love to the Norwegian art scene.’

It was on an earlier trip to Norway, to Bergen, that I noticed how tastefully and well the work and reputation of another famous 20th century Norwegian – this time musician and composer Edvard Grieg – is preserved and promoted, outside of the typical naming of conservatoires and concert halls in his honour, or the placing of statues of him in civic squares. A visit to his summer house at Troldsalen, just outside Bergen, revealed the same timber villa, preserved just as when Greig and his wife Nina lived in it, high on a hill overlooking Lake Nordâs. But rather than simply allow us to nose among his books and furniture, the tour included a performance by the curator of music Grieg composed here, in his living room, on the same piano that he played. That was a magical immersion in Grieg’s life and times. Even more impressive was discovering a delightful concert hall, which has been built into the sloping rock-face that leads down to the lakeside, and which is used regularly for concerts and festivals. A really elegant, modernist construction, one of the most impressive aspects is a glazed rear wall at the base of the hall, behind the stage, which frames a view not just of the lake but also the small wooden shed in which Grieg wrote many of his most famous pieces. The concert hall was completed in 1985 but still looks remarkably contemporary. Submerged in the landscape, its design, by architects Peter Helland-Hansen and Sverre Lied, ensures that there is no overshadowing of Greig’s historic summer house or his views. But the architecture, acoustics and setting attract a steady flow of visitors and performers.

This goes way beyond the addition of cosy cafes for visitors to historic homes or landmarks, which has long been the preferred way of drawing culture lovers to places of significance. The visitor centre has grown to be such a familiar trope over the last few decades, it’s hard to imagine a destination view, building or gallery that doesn’t now offer refreshments, entertainment and gift shopping opportunities. But doing it well, in a way that really reflects and enhances both the character and personality of the place, is still pretty rare.

The most remarkable site I have visited for enhancing and enriching appreciation of an artist’s work has to be Chillida Leku near San Sebastian, northern Spain. Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida acquired the stone-built Zabalaga farmhouse and estate in the 1980s when it was practically a ruin, and spent the next twenty years lovingly reconstructing this medieval stone barn/home as if it was an extension of his own sculptures – in fact, that’s how the ancient, interlocking timber beams and great stone ledges and junctions appear. He said: ‘One day, I dreamed…of finding a space where my sculptures could rest and where people could walk through them as though in a forest.’ And that’s exactly what Chillida Leku offered when it opened to the public in 2000. The 11 hectare garden features over 40 of Chillida’s sculptures, conversing with the rolling landscape as well as the stone farmhouse, now a museum filled with Chillida’s work, and each other. However, it struggled to attract the necessary visitor numbers to justify remaining consistently open and, by 2011, it was closed except for visits by prior appointment. Then Hauser & Wirth, probably the world’s leading commercial art concern, with galleries all over the world, added management of this site to its portfolio. And in 2019, elegant visitor facilities appeared, designed by Argentinian architect Luis Laplace, working with Chillida’s grandson, Jon Essery Chillida, incorporating – of course – a sleek new café and shop.

Henry Moore is probably the closest thing we have in the UK to Chillida, who has national treasure status in Spain. Moore is also one of few UK artists of the last century to have left a major physical legacy of his life, outside of his works (Bridget Riley’s Cornish home and studio being the other). This comes in the form of his Hertfordshire home and workshops in the village of Perry Green. By the time he died, he was immensely wealthy, so the Foundation he left behind has been able to commission three new or extended buildings over the last decade, to make it the kind of 21st century cultural attraction that this ambitious 20th century artist would have wanted.

There is something very enriching about seeing Moore’s work on this site, as architect Hugh Broughton, whose practice designed the new spaces, says: ‘He created his work, both on the estate and in response to the estate. His wife Irene was a committed landscape gardener and created the landscape in response to the sculpture – and the sculpture responded to the landscape. So it has quite an interesting dynamic.’

Broughton worked closely with the Foundation as well as with Moore’s daughter Mary who had opposed previous developments. Broughton agrees it was daunting as an architect to respond to one of the giants of 20th century sculpture, but his tactic was to avoid materials that overtly referenced Moore’s work, and keep the buildings ‘relatively humble, parsimonious and strongly connected to the landscape’.

As one of the aforementioned great architectural legacies of the Victorian era – urban churches – fell into disrepair due to the massive drop in churchgoing and the flourishing of other faiths, there has been a strong, often grassroots, movement to reinterpret and repurpose these vast, often ornate, but environmentally leaky, spaces and bring them up to date for new activities and communities (see St John’s case study). The most historically significant of them are receiving direct National Lottery Heritage support – to the tune of £130m so far, mainly directed at cathedrals, with 180 Lottery-funded projects underway or newly completed. These include the creation of a new public square in the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral and refurbishing Durham Cathedral’s medieval spaces for exhibitions of their collections.

But equally – if not more – popular for National Lottery funding are buildings that speak of an area’s former identity, through trade, science or manufacturing. New Lottery-funded schemes under way include the five year, £3.47m refurbishment of the derelict Silverburn Flax Mill in Fife, that will transform it into a visitor centre, backpacker’s hostel, café, artist studios, community space and shop.

A similar, £2.7m lottery funded industrial conversion is under way in Grimsby, with John Puttick Associates – whose 2018 refurbishment of the legendary, brutalist Preston Bus Station has drawn high accolades and multiple awards, as well as brought a new connectivity to that Lancashire town – currently repurposing a group of Victorian warehouses to create a dynamic and sports-enriched youth hub. Inspired adaptive reuse has been part of Puttick’s DNA since he set up the practice.

He told FX: ‘The UK has an extraordinary architectural heritage and we feel there is a great opportunity to bring historic buildings into the 21st century – providing a sense of both continuity for the community while introducing new design ideas that express contemporary aspirations and needs. The creative use of existing structures is also key to a more sustainable approach to the built environment, with each building representing a considerable amount of embodied carbon which can be reused for the future.’ Now if that isn’t a good legacy for future users, I don’t know what is.


CASE STUDY
NATIONAL MUSEUM, NORWAY

Norway’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design was born of a 2003 amalgamation of four national museums, though the thought of combining their 6,500 objects under one roof did not arise until 2010. And it wasn’t until 2014 that German practice Kleihues + Schuwerk’s proposal won the competition to house these diverse collections.

Opened in June 2022, the new museum’s massive, grey slate-tiled bulk has led to it being dubbed ‘the bunker’, but the cladding and form were chosen to create a durable, weatherproof, high quality exterior, as well as to minimise overshadowing the Nobel Peace Centre in front of it, not to mention the historic buildings that fringe the adjacent harbour front. Its third floor is a glowing pavilion of light, constructed of glass panels sandwiched around 4mm thick slices of marble. In this way, it manages to be both monumental and discreet, while quietly drawing attention to the treasures within.

This image The museum has been built to last, earning it the nickname of ‘the bunker’ due to its grey slate tiling. Image Credit: IWAN BAAN
This image The museum has been built to last, earning it the nickname of ‘the bunker’ due to its grey slate tiling. Image Credit: IWAN BAAN

The curatorial team has adopted a brave thematic approach for the objects that are woven through the ground floor: they tell the story of the evolution of art, craft and design, over the last two millennia, from the statues of ancient civilisations to the Scandi design legends of the 20th century. The rooms are themed in ways that showcase the collections’ strengths, while also flagging up the symbolism and value of these precious objects – looking, for example, at the influence of growing trade networks, the emergence of merchant classes as consumers, and the subsequent emphasis on interior decoration. The first floor is dedicated to fine art, and features an impressive array of mainly European and Norwegian artists from over the last 500 years. It looks at how art has shaped and in turn reflected notions of Norwegian identity, in tune with currents from the wider world. The top floor, the ‘Light Hall’ is a space for temporary exhibitions, which opened with a massive showcase for lesser-known contemporary Norwegian artists. There are also education spaces, plus a comprehensive archive and conservation facilities.

The museum’s third floor show, ‘I Call it Art’, exhibits 147 contemporary Norwegian artist. Image Credit: IWAN BAAN
The museum’s third floor show, ‘I Call it Art’, exhibits 147 contemporary Norwegian artist. Image Credit: IWAN BAAN

The museum’s interiors feature high ceilings, spacious corridors and staircases, and walls occasionally punctured by huge windows – such as that giving a glorious view onto the harbour and the back of the Nobel Peace Centre, from the first floor ‘lounge’ space. The oak floors, as with other materials, are chosen for durability. As director Karin Hindsbo said at the opening: ‘When you make a decision to build a new art museum you have a perspective of 300 years because you want to preserve the collection for centuries, not decades.’

Client: National Museums of Norway

Architects: Kleihues + Schuwerk

Area: 54,600 sq m

Cost: £500m

Completed: June 2022


CASE STUDY
HENRY MOORE HOUSE AND GARDENS

When Henry Moore and his wife and daughter moved to the peaceful village of Perry Green, Hertfordshire around 1940, he could only afford to rent half of the farmhouse there. By the time he died, he owned the house as well as 70 acres of land and all the farm buildings around it, not to mention much of the village. The farm buildings were slowly acquired as workshops for his different creative activities. Six of these remain, including his enchanting maquette studio, as well as carving, etching and drawing studios. Together with the family home, Hoglands, where his own personal art collection is displayed, a visit to the house and gardens is truly a deep delve into Moore’s life and practice. But the theft of one of his sculptures from the back of a lorry revealed the risks of having such low security on this rural site. In 2007, Hugh Broughton Architects (HBA) were commissioned to create a phased masterplan for the site’s evolution, starting with a new secure sculpture store to replace the crumbling barns in which Moore’s bronze, plaster and timber pieces had been kept.

Their response was a state of the art 1,300 sq m store, offering three different temperature controlled zones to safely house all the different kinds of sculpture, as well as tapestry, with space for packaging and shipping and a secure loading porch. In design, it is a large, modern barn, with blackened oak cladding and a simple, pitched zinc roof.

The project has been meticulously designed to separate public and private functions. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW
The project has been meticulously designed to separate public and private functions. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW

The second and most major phase involved refurbishing and extending the office building, called Daintree House, where Moore’s extensive photography collection had been housed under a leaking roof, and the removal of archive facilities into a new, dedicated space in another house called Downwood. The reuse of existing buildings was stipulated due to the site’s green belt designation, but HBA has responded with an appropriate degree of creativity and pragmatism. The original Daintree house is now wrapped around with new components to create more open plan visitor facilities: a grey-stained sweet chestnut and glass pavilion now houses a large café, plus generous education spaces and a shop. Operational offices are above the shop and curatorial offices and meeting rooms are incorporated in the first floor of a new two-storey section which sweeps around in a curve to create panoramic views over the rolling English landscape. The building is meticulously planned to ensure separation of public and private functions. The style is modernist, drawing on the aesthetic of the 1960s, the period of Moore’s greatest productivity. The garden side of the pavilion is transparent to enhance the connection between outside and in, and offer views onto Moore’s bronzes. Says Hugh Broughton: ‘We wanted the lawns to literally come right up to the glazed façade, so there’d be no sense of the building sitting on any sort of plinth. It sits very humbly within its landscape.’

The project has been meticulously designed to separate public and private functions. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW
A large café is now housed in a sweet chestnut and glass pavilion. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW

The last element to complete, the archive, set back near the expanded car park, was designed as both a response to context, says Broughton, ‘but also a mathematical exercise in measuring every item in the collection to make sure there was space for everything, and with enough flexibility to serve the foundation’s needs for the next 50 years.’ The original house has been fully refurbished and extended, with a new monopitch wing that echoes the original’s form and dimensions. It is clad in oxidised steel panels, to contrast with Moore’s bronzes but also complement the deciduous woodlands behind it. A timber lined reading room with louvred corner window and a fully glazed entrance pavilion allow views inside and out. Storage areas now keep the entire archive safe for the foreseeable future. Heating and cooling to both buildings is through a shared ground source heat pump, while projecting canopies to south facing elevations minimise solar gain; a natural ventilation strategy keeps all public and office areas comfortable.

The space also includes offices in the upper level and educational spaces below. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW
The space also includes offices in the upper level and educational spaces below. Image Credit: HUFTON+CROW

Client: The Henry Moore Foundation

Architect: Hugh Broughton Architects

Gross internal area: 709 sq m (visitor centre); 425 sq m (archive)

Cost: £6m (visitor centre and archive)

Completed: 2017

Project Manager: Bramwell Hall Projects

Structural Engineer: Price & Myers

Lighting Consultant: Pritchard Themis Lighting Design

Landcape Architect: Bradley-Hole Schoenaich Landscape Architects (concept); The Landscape Agency (technical design and delivery)


CASE STUDY
HORIZON GRIMSBY YOUTH ZONE

A dilapidated series of Grade II listed granary warehouses at the heart of Grimsby Town are slowly being transformed into a new Horizon Grimsby Youth Zone that involves both restoration of the original buildings and new additions, from John Puttick Associates. With the earliest structure dated 1821, the buildings will soon become a centre for young people, bringing arts, performance and sports facilities as well as vital socialising areas to this, a highly visible town landmark, facing the river Freshney. Accessed via a pedestrian bridge, the new main entrance will lead directly from the bridge, connecting visitors to the various spaces, including a large central hall, a martial arts gym and a boathouse offering direct access to the river.

Horizon Grimsby Youth Zone will regenerate Victorian era warehouses into a vibrant zone for the city’s youth to socialise in
Horizon Grimsby Youth Zone will regenerate Victorian era warehouses into a vibrant zone for the city’s youth to socialise in

At the north end of the site, new-build structures to be added include a standing seam metal-clad, four-court sports hall, with a saw-tooth roof profile that reflects the industrial nature of the site, while drawing indirect sunlight down into the interior. There will also be a climbing wall, as well as training kitchen, music room with a recording studio, a fully equipped gym, dance and drama studios, an arts and crafts room, and an enterprise and employability suite. The external recreation areas include a kick-pitch and skate park, sheltered by the L-shaped plan. Putting Grimsby’s young people in the spotlight for a much-needed boost to their prospects on all fronts – social, physical and professional – makes this a vital investment in the town’s future. Run by a national organisation of youth zones, called OnSide, it will be open to young people aged from 8–19, with membership open for those up to 25 if they have additional needs. Operating seven days a week, usage is charged at 50p a visit.

Horizon Grimsby Youth Zone will regenerate Victorian era warehouses into a vibrant zone for the city’s youth to socialise in
Horizon Grimsby Youth Zone will regenerate Victorian era warehouses into a vibrant zone for the city’s youth to socialise in

Client: OnSide
Architecture: John Puttick Associates
Area: 2,956 sq m
Cost construction budget: £10.2k (includes £2.7m National Lottery Heritage Funding)
Completion date: 2024
Project manager and cost consultants: Walker Sime Structural Engineer HL Structural Engineers
M&E Services: TACE
Transport consultant: SK Transport Planning Ltd
Acoustic Consultant: Miller Goodall
Heritage Consultant: Spencer
Heritage Services: Ecology TEP


CASE STUDY
ST JOHN’S WATERLOO, LONDON

St John’s Waterloo is one of London’s more significant churches, not just for its Greek Revival architecture – by Francis Bedford, completed 1842 – but also for the role it has played over the last 70 years. When homelessness hit terrible highs in the 1970s and 1980s, and ‘cardboard city’ sprang up along the Victoria embankment, St John’s, which sits just south of Waterloo Bridge, opened its doors to offer daytime shelter and sustenance in its crypt. As local authorities and charities stepped in to whisk the homeless out of sight, St John’s, while continuing to offer shelter and support, added a focus on the arts, offering rehearsal and performance space to local musicians.

An exterior view of St John’s Waterloo church, with its Greek Revival architecture clearly apparent. Image Credit: VERONICA SIMPSON
An exterior view of St John’s Waterloo church, with its Greek Revival architecture clearly apparent. Image Credit: VERONICA SIMPSON

But even before the pandemic vaporised the congregations from London’s pews, a £5.2m campaign had been successfully mounted to repair and renovate the dilapidated areas of this Grade II listed church, under the inspired design and conservation guidance of Eric Parry Architects. Finishing August 2022, the differences will be immediately apparent. Instead of a large wall that blocked views from the entrance into the nave, a glass wall now offers environmental and acoustic protection, while allowing visitors to see into the church’s activities. Windows are repaired and replaced and walls have been stripped back and repainted a serene, light-reflecting white. The famous mural, painted by German-born Jewish artist Hans Feibusch as part of the church’s rededication in 1951 as the Festival of Britain Church, has been restored, and the sanctuary developed to create a more appropriate concert stage. New acoustic boards line this central part to enhance live performances.

An exterior view of St John’s Waterloo church, with its Greek Revival architecture clearly apparent. Image Credit: VERONICA SIMPSON
An exterior view of St John’s Waterloo church, with its Greek Revival architecture clearly apparent. Image Credit: VERONICA SIMPSON

Most visually dramatic, however, is the refurbishment of the gloomy crypt area below. The entire basement floorplate has been refurbished for contemporary use, its heating, lighting and ventilation brought up to date, and the handsome brick vaults painted white. There are now bookable meeting rooms, consultation rooms for therapy, plus a space for exhibitions and events for up to 40 people, the hire of which will provide vital revenues. There is also a dedicated rehearsal space at the rear of the crypt for the resident orchestra, which gives young musicians coming out of the London conservatories a year of paid work on a mixed programme of solo, operatic and concert performances. With this degree of flexibility and choice of accommodation, the hope is to do St John’s existing community proud as well as draw in new blood.

 

Client: The Parish of St John with St Andrew Waterloo
Architecture and interior design: Eric Parry Architects
Area: 1,170 sq m
Cost: £5.2m (funding partners include the Mayor of London, Lambeth Council and donations)








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