FROM THE HARBOURSIDE THE NEW BUILDING IS AN ALDO ROSSI ARCHETYPE WITH ADDED COMPLEXITY
Edinburgh-based Reiach and Hall was established in 1965, and has worked in the education, health, residential, commercial, arts and industrial sectors.
Key projects include the Wolfson Medical School at Glasgow University (AJ 24.10.02), the Westport Offices in Edinburgh (AJ 24.04.03) and the Arts Faculty Building for the University of St Andrews (AJ 09.11.06).
Arriving by road past a flicker of suburbia, the harbour town of Stromness in Orkney is defined by two building types, laid over hill and sea like a weather-worn hand with a high street for a lifeline.
Type one comprises the two-storey pitched-roof houses placed either parallel or perpendicular to the road, with chimneys flush to rendered gable ends resembling inkpots. Type two consists of the long chimneyless pitched-roof sheds, sitting on dry-stone jetties sticking into the water like so many stubby fingers.
This is an insistent morphology that reminds me both of the platonic form-making of Aldo Rossi and the nuanced buildings of lvaro Siza, whose projects develop a topographical response.
One can characterise the exterior expression of the scheme by Reiach and Hall to refurbish and extend Stromness' Pier Arts Centre as located somewhere between these two canons; and, as such, it offers lessons for future regional development.
The Pier Arts Centre is based around a collection of 20th-century 'St Ives School' paintings and sculpture, the bequest of Margaret Gardiner to the community of Orkney in the 1970s.
To host this, architects Kate Heron and Axel Burrough refurbished a former harbour storage building and an 18th-century street house in 1979. Their sympathetic project was contemporary with the completion of Kettle's Yard art gallery in Cambridge, whose extension of linked-together cottages by Leslie Martin and David Owers is an exemplar of its kind.
Kettle's Yard and the Pier have much in common: they have closely comparable collections centred on such artists as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Alfred Wallis, William Scott and Roger Hilton; the works were collected personally over a lifetime for intimate house settings; and both have purpose-made extensions that increase the range of possible arts activity. At this point the similarities end, as the architectural strategies for the respective extensions diverge considerably.
In Stromness, the original two-floor harbour building housing the main collection has been faithfully restored by Reiach and Hall. Each of the two floors is a gently inflected room-toroom experience, where the walls that define them are only partly reconstructed, allowing a sense of the whole. The ground floor is low-ceilinged while the upper floor, equally modest in scale, is open to the volume of the roof. It has an intimate feel, with enough sense of the domestic to present the collection appropriately; similar to Kettle's Yard, where the three knockedthrough cottages create a meandering spatial cosiness.
Walls 60-80cm thick with deep-set windows create highly charged oculi of light. The relationship between interior flat white surface and deep reveals is powerful, rhyming with some of the artworks, particular Hepworth's Oval and Involute II.
Aside from the ground floor, whose gridded quarry tiles were exchanged for a staggered layout, Reiach and Hall's restrained strategy was to upgrade without alteration. On the first floor a beige rustic carpet intensifies the feeling of a cottage.
Externally, this rather ordinary-looking building has remained unaltered, other than to repoint the stone walls in lime mortar and retain the pair of 1970s external stone steps. As an entity, it is like a hollowed log with knots for windows.
By contrast, the new building is rather sleek. Parallel to, but separate from, the old, it is set further back from the sea, wider and higher, but otherwise markedly similar in form to its pitchedroof neighbours. Its roof and walls are black, but whereas the south elevation and roof have the paper-like surface of zinc sheeting with raised vertical creases at 45cm centres, the north side becomes pronounced, with vertical-ribbed hollow bars of aluminium and all glass infill strips set back about 30cm.
The eastern seafront facade is like the south face, except for stretches of glass which reveal the thickness of the structure and signify that this is not a building for industrial use. By maintaining a flush condition between glass and cladding, the continuity of the skin of the building - and the archetypal form of a shed - is sustained. This new structure - though formally mimicking the existing ones - has an imposing presence, creating a close relationship with the harbour building and merging directly into the slate roof of the newly refurbished 18th-century street building, which has been combined with one next door.
As at Kettle's Yard, the building on the street has been reworked into the overall gallery to act as a shop window - here with dignified bronze-framed plate glass. In the front facade treatment of the reworked building I see a Siza-esque composition of a 'face', with a parti that relies on continuity of surface and deep restraint. It is handled with assurance and skill.
The focus on exterior expression is rightly different to Kettle's Yard, which is generally hidden behind the street frontage.
Leslie Martin's team, encouraged to contrast the gallery and house addition with the domestic spaces, offered a larger scale of interlinked spaces which operate a rigorous strategy of painted masonry expressed structure that resonates with the older buildings in an emotive way. Light is almost always from above. Reiach and Hall's own interior strategy, by contrast, is not as clear.
While with the 1970s conversion for the Pier the street and rear buildings are kept separate, in the new project all are linked via the new one. Possibly as a consequence of focusing on the addition as a link building, the architect has eschewed the room-to-room configuration and opted for a corridor-cum-gallery that runs the length of the building. The close-mullioned northfacing glass wall dominates this space, which occurs on both the ground and taller glass-roofed first fl oors.
Rather than exploiting the width of the building and forming a contrasting spatial relationship with the modest-sized older rooms, the architect has gone for a strategy of fixed gallery rooms that more or less match in plan those of the old building.
There is a small harbourside room with a full-width glass facade, leading to an inner room which is double height. This 4m-high space has no natural light of its own but borrows from doorways. The decision not to span the reinforced-concrete structure across the width, but to set up another structural line on the inside of the corridor space (marked by one of three expressed concrete columns and beams), means these spaces remain fixed.
Upstairs, the building repeats itself around the drylined concrete wall to the double-height room below. The top oor has an attic library, with books in a generously proportioned white timber-framed glass cabinet. Surfaces in the new entrance and the staircase are lined with oak planks.
Taken overall, the interior of the new building is more difficult to comprehend than that of the existing one - partly because much of it is given to support activities, but more specifically in relation to its structural, spatial and lighting concept.
The original collection comprises small paintings and objects that are comfortable in modest domestic or rural vernacular settings. On the other hand, conceptual art challenges this and, seeking to operate with anything and everything, it could be anywhere. This means that the architect is now in a position where the merest whiff of ambiguity between object and setting can lead to a reading of fixtures and fittings as art. Added to this is the need to create environments with a laboratory-like atmosphere to satisfy insurance conditions for showing art. Reiach and Hall refers to specific art pieces inspiring its work and is clearly interested in the subject matter. Given this, the older buildings, which appear to have little in the way of environmental paraphernalia (but do work), are juxtaposed baldly with the new building which appears laden with it - a surprising example being an oversized environmental access door to the new harbourside rooms, set into the whole of one wall.
Leaving the gallery to visit William Lethaby's nearby Melsetter House, the Arts and Crafts masterpiece, I was struck by the way he controlled the extraordinary daylight that is present in this part of the world as well as the way every detail has a role to play. Returning to the gallery I met two artists, Ragna Róbertsdóttir and Alan Johnston, both of whom were enthusiastic about the new gallery's interior, which they were busy christening with their own works.
From the harbourside the new blackened building is an Aldo Rossi archetype with added complexity. The project sets up an ambiguity between building structure and skin, absorbing the vernacular of the adjacent ferry terminal with the more familiar forms of the town. The external expression of architecture, whether urban or rural, has the ability to generate great inuence unconsciously on the work of others over time. There is no doubt that this project by Reiach and Hall, which is one of the three consistently interesting practices operating in Scotland, will continue this inuence.
Tender date 20 December 2004 Start on site date 4 April 2005 Contract duration 75-week contract period, actual length 85 weeks (practical completion November 2006) Gross internal floor area 1,023m 2Form of contract SBCC Contractor Design Portion with quantities May 1999 addition (Jan 2002 revision) Total cost (based on tender sum) £2,814,500 Client The Pier Arts Centre Project manager Pentarq Project Manager Architect Reiach and Hall Structural engineer SKM Anthony Hunt Quantity surveyor Pentarq Quantity Surveyor Planning supervisor Reiach and Hall Planning Supervisor Main contractor Casey Construction Access consultant JMU Accesss Partnership Lighting designer Foto-Ma Cost summary Cost per m² (£) Percentage of SUBSTRUCTURE 106.65 SUPERSTRUCTURE Upper floors 55.23 2.01 Roof 145.75 Staircases 18.67 External walls 440.27 14.0 Windows and external doors 142.62 5.18 Internal walls 84.65 3.08 and partitions Internal doors 79.47 2.89 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 966.66 35.14 INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 108.21 3.93 Floor finishes 65.59 2.38 Ceiling finishes 37.93 1.38 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 211.73 7.69 FITTINGS AND FURNITURE 27.47 1.00 SERVICES Sanitary appliances 8.31 0.30 Disposal installations 39.78 1.44 Water installations 17.30 0.63 Space heating and air 294.13 3.0 treatment Electrical services 356.30 12.95 Lift installations 36.27 1.32 Protective installations 259.63 9.44 Communication installations 112.32 4.08 Builders' work in connection 4.30 0.15 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 1,128.34 41.00 EXTERNAL WORKS 102.05 3.71 PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE 208.31 7.58 TOTAL 2,751.21 Costs SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations/slabs £106.65/m 2Cast-in situ concrete slab and ground beams on concrete piles bored to bedrock through loose rock fill SUPERSTRUCTURE Upper floors £55.23/m 2New build: primary reinforced cast-in situ concrete frame.
Existing buildings: replacement/repairs to floors and miscellaneous steelwork Roof £145.75/m 2New build: VM zinc plus non-ventilated standing-seam zinc roof and wall cladding with protective layer patented coating to underside on rigid cellular glass insulation board to one side, bespoke double glazed thermally broken system on opposite side Existing buildings: all re-slated and reinsulated Staircases £18.67/m 2Exposed cast-in situ concrete flights and landings with oak treads and risers, plus repair and rebuilding of existing stairs External walls £440.27/m 2New build: cast-in situ concrete structure, zinc cladding on one side, ribbed glazing on opposite Existing buildings: various downtakings, new openings and making good/renewing affected finishes Windows and external doors £142.62/m 2New build: curtain wall windows and doors Existing buildings: bronze shop-front screens and doors;
Existing building: lifting and relaying salvaged and reclaimed matching stone flags to existing (B-listed) pier surfaces, includes lighting and re-siting of Hepworth bronze curvedform artwork and various replacement PPC galvanised-zinc gates and stair handrails
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES Preliminaries, overheads and profits £208.31/m 2