Hugh Broughton Architects has created a visitor centre and archive building for the Henry Moore Foundation, writes Jay Merrick. Photography by Hufton + Crow
Hugh Broughton Architects’ new visitor centre and archive buildings at the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire produce a tantalisingly ambiguous response. It is impossible to say, decisively, whether they are contextually skilful, yet one can say that the design of the individual buildings – with one possible exception – has been adroit.
Contexts usually generate distinct suggestions that can inform a place-considerate design response. This is not the case at Perry Green, a scattered hamlet where land and a number of properties were owned by Henry Moore. The buildings that related to his artistic production and domestic life from 1941 onwards are ad hoc in their architecture and positions on the 28ha estate.
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Moore had a make-do attitude to both his own working conditions and his properties. The skew-whiff, almost early-Gehry plexiglass studio, for example; Hawkins\Brown’s studiously plain exhibition barn; the scruffy but utterly magical Bourne maquette studio; Elmwood, the unremarkable brick house that previously held the archive; and the rather messy straggle of three small buildings that formed Dane Tree House, the home of the Henry Moore Foundation. Even Moore’s family home 50m away, the Grade II*-listed Hoglands, is higgledy-piggledy; a late medieval house rebuilt and then remodelled in the 17th century. Within this setting there was little chance of introducing coherent critical regionalist interventions.
Principal Hugh Broughton and his project director, Gianluca Rendina, have extended Elmwood with a relatively large and striking Cor-ten-clad structure whose considerable object-quality stops just short of overwhelming its relationship with the house and the immediate surroundings.
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At Dane Tree House, the intervention takes the form of a reconfigured entrance sequence which segues into a pavilion running along the landscape-facing side of the original buildings. It cranks slightly in plan near its west end and then flips up and over to create an extra office space above one of the existing buildings at the west end.
There’s no doubt that the reinvention of Dane Tree House will provide a vastly improved threshold experience for up to 35,000 visitors a year.
The architectural styles of these interventions are very different to the buildings they’re attached to. Broughton says that ‘making do’, à la Moore, was ‘a very important idea in the design’. This is true in that existing buildings were not knocked down, but there is nothing ‘making do’ about the new architecture itself. Is it counterfactually outré, or suitably different?
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The new archive, with a blockwork and concrete plank structure, contains three BS 5454-compliant controlled-environment spaces, a beautifully made wood-panelled reading room with views through its metal-louvred east and west facing corner section, and a reception segment connected to the original building.
The main body of the new archive is rectangular in plan, and its monopitch roof falls from its south-facing, two storey-high side to meet the flat-roofed link section. Seen from the east, the archive effectively bows to Elmwood and, with Euclidean deference, the line of the roof pitch concludes precisely at the bottom corner of the original building’s eastern elevation.
The simple building form of the new archive and its strongly coloured, rust-textured elevations could have appeared bumptiously stolid or even monumental. But no. Broughton’s judgement of the details has produced a thoroughly satisfying architectural object; a cleverly composed Modernist stranger in this bucolic Moore-land.
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The vertical joints of the 1.6m-wide Cor-ten panels, in relation to a continuous horizontal joint, produce a de-massing perspectival effect. A sharp, continuous profile protruding from the otherwise standard horizontal Cor-ten-clad lintel of the entrance canopy stops it from looking merely functional. The louvred segments are well crafted, and the thickness and spacing of the blades decompress the implied weight of the archive’s south-east corner and add haptic traction without shouting: ‘Notable design feature!’
The narrow courtyard on the west side between the new and old buildings completes a very successful and mannerly overall composition which looks interesting from all angles. From the east – which could have been the most problematic view of the archive – there is no sense of old-new architectural argument: the verticals of the matched-width Cor-ten panels and elm-framed entrance modules (with glazing by Capoferri) join Elmwood’s more-or-less blank façade without junction angst.
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At Dane Tree House, the architecture of the pavilion extension produces several admirable outcomes and, to borrow a cricketing term, one googly. The reception area-cum-shop, and the run of café and meeting rooms along the fully glazed south-facing side, are highly effective as spaces. The restrained detailing, coupled with deeply punched rooflights, produces pleasantly uncluttered, light-filled volumes and excellent outlooks across the sculpture garden. A simple rectangular entrance volume has been added to the north side and, almost the moment you enter, there is a clear and alluring view of the southern parkland, an anticipation of Moore’s domain.
The only eye-candy moment – and it’s engrossing rather than flashy – is the well-designed and superbly crafted brass-clad reception desk made by Broughton’s regular carpenter, John Weaver. The pavilion is clad with horizontal pale grey stained sweet chestnut boards in 1.6m metal-framed modules. From the south, the single-storey layer presents as a limber, light-touch Modernist intervention.
Broughton bowls his design googly at its west end, where the cantilevered single-storey roof flips back over the top in an angled curve to add office space in one of the original buildings.
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It’s rather like a quiff, and it’s well done in terms of proportions, details, and the smoothness of the flip; so too is the geometry where the upper storey joins the existing building behind it. However, its architectural type is evasive – a formal riddle sitting on top of the otherwise precisely delineated architectural logic of the pavilion’s lower storey.
It’s possible, of course, that a rectilinear up-and-over would have appeared boxy or lumpen, and so the jury must return an open verdict on this part of the design, despite the fact that Broughton has previous form on curves: his 2009 proposals for a cultural centre at the tip of Southend Pier featured a stilted structure with an asymmetrically radiused timber wrap.
Nevertheless, Elmwood and Dane Tree House burnish his practice’s reputation as a designer of art-related architecture, also including the Rafael Moneo-influenced Portland Collection at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire, and Maidstone Museum’s East Wing. In both those cases, Broughton had much more clearly defined contexts to relate to.
The new buildings at Perry Green carry the Moore Foundation’s operations forward with some panache, and their nominal architectural arbitrariness recalls one of the great man’s quotes: ‘A large piece of stone or wood placed almost anywhere at random in a field, orchard, or garden, immediately looks right and inspiring.’
The visitor centre and archive at Henry Moore Studios and Gardens is the second project Hugh Broughton Architects (HBA) has designed for the Henry Moore Foundation, following a sculpture storage facility and workshop.
The great thing about working with HBA is the iterative design development process. We spent 12 months developing the building together, so, as the client, we got exactly what we wanted and there were no surprises – other than pleasant ones.
Whenever we reviewed draft plans and identified challenges, HBA would come back with one or more choices for a creative solution. So while the buildings represent an amalgam of ideas created by everyone involved, HBA’s skill was in ensuring that the final result did not feel as though it was designed ‘by committee’ – far from it.
These buildings reflect the legacy of Britain’s greatest sculptor, so the interior and exterior design, feel and finish were of critical importance to us. We had many discussions interrogating different designs, materials and colours so as to ensure the empathy of the new buildings with the landscape and with Moore’s era. Clean, simple lines were important, as was ensuring that the buildings sat in the landscape, not on it. The colours, too, are redolent of the materials and patination used by Moore in his work. So together, the overall design presents a neutral, but at the same time beautiful, context against which Moore’s work will always stand out. Our visitors love the new buildings, as do we.
Lesley Wake, chief operating officer, Henry Moore Foundation
Archive ground floor plan
Start on site February 2015
Completion March 2017
Gross internal floor area 1,436m2
Form of contract JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2011
Construction cost £5,362,000
Construction cost per m2 £3,734
Architect Hugh Broughton Architects
Client The Henry Moore Foundation
Project manager Bramwell Hall Projects
Structural engineer Price & Myers
MEP consultant Harley Haddow
Quantity surveyor CGC Projects
Lighting consultant Pritchard Themis
Landscape architect The Landscape Agency
Approved building inspector Approved Inspector Services
Main contractor RG Carter Southern
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions (predicted) Dane Tree House = 24.89 kgCO2/m2 Elmwood Archive = 9.45 kgCO2/m2
Visitor centre ground floor plan
Visitor centre first floor plan
Service engineer’s view
The visitor centre and offices were straightforward in terms of servicing approach, while the archive’s requirements were more specific, as it needed to provide safe storage for Moore’s films, negatives, prints, papers and books. Planning and sustainability considerations determined a pragmatic approach to the design, providing the volumes required within a domestic-scale building. This in turn had an impact on how the environmental strategy was developed.
Both buildings are provided with heating and chilled water from a centralised ground source heat pump installation in the archive building’s new-build plant areas. This met the planning authority’s stringent carbon emissions requirements, as well as providing an integrated and quiet central plant source. Heating, chilled and potable water and a high-pressure mist fire suppression system are all distributed from the centralised plant installation to serve both buildings.
Archive areas are provided with recirculation local conditioning units. These include recirculation fans and provide heating, cooling, dehumidification and humidification to allow each of the spaces to be temperature and humidity controlled. The criteria range from 6°C to 8°C and 32 to 28 per cent relative humidity for the negatives store, to 16°C to 19°C and 45 to 55 per cent relative humidity for the paper and book stores. This presents a relatively tight band of control, which has been achieved using a passive control strategy, allowing systems to shut down when the conditions are in band and for as long as the building can passively hold those conditions.
Chris McLaren, director, Harley Haddow
Visitor centre section a–a
The archive is contained within an original house which has been fully repurposed and extended to create a series of environmentally controlled zones to suit the specialist requirements of differing media. This complies with PD 5454: Guide for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials and PAS 198: Specification for managing environmental conditions for cultural collections.
The elevations and roof of the monopitch extension are clad in Cor-ten weathering steel, selected to suit the deciduous woodland setting and for its graceful, naturally ageing properties. The Cor-ten panels provide a rainscreen enclosure, which is fixed back to a sealed, weatherproof insulated carrier panel system. The composite system is supported by reinforced block walls and precast concrete roof panels, which provide both thermal mass and a high level of security. The hollow concrete blockwork is filled with reinforced poured concrete for additional security. The construction system provides a high level of air impermeability, reducing energy requirements and helping to maintain conditions within archive areas. The clay sub-soil and close proximity of trees dictated a piled solution for the foundations, supporting an insulated concrete slab. Surface water run-off is attenuated by swales and a balancing pond.
A large corner window illuminates the timber-lined reading room and gives views on to the gardens. UV-filtered glazing is shaded by external Cor-ten louvres, which minimise solar gain and ensure a secure enclosure. Internally, both solar and blackout blinds afford further protection.
Gianluca Rendina, project architect, Hugh Broughton Architects
Archive reading room isometric cutaway section