Hawkins\Brown was established by Roger Hawkins and Russell Brown in 1989 and now has a staff of 57. It has developed a reputation for delivering social-cultural buildings and community-based projects in the UK. Recent arts projects include: the Culture House in Dalston, the new home of the Vortex Jazz Club (2005); a London studio and workspace for artists Rachel Whiteread and Marcus Taylor (2004); and the renovation of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire (1999).The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Oxfordshire, opened in June 2005.
The Big Friendly Giant casts a watchful eye over Great Missenden High Street, and aficionados might notice that the gates to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre are an exact replica of those used in Tim Burton's just-released remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But there are no singing Oompa Loompas or chocolate lake. This is not a Willy Wonka theme park but a temple to literacy; its primary purpose to encourage children to enjoy the art of story-telling. More prosaically, it is also an essay in rural regeneration; an intensive mixed-use development, albeit at a micro scale. A rag-tag collection of historic buildings reinvented as an exhibition space, an archive, a shop, a café, a teaching space, offices, a flat for a writer in residence - and even a flat to let.
Grouped around a central courtyard, a 19th-century flint and brick hall and 16th-century dwellings used to jostle for position with less elevated 20th-century additions including a garage, lean-to and WC block. Ravaged by time and myriad changes of use, the buildings were a jigsaw puzzle of considered intervention and ad hoc bricolage. Armed with a comprehensive historic building survey carried out by Archeological Services and Consultancy, Hawkins\Brown embarked on the task of working out what to keep, what to change, what to remove and what to add to the location. An electro-plating plant to the rear of the site was demolished to make way for a simple timber-clad pitchedroof building, which sits comfortably with its more established neighbours and houses the Dahl Archive on a mezzanine and exhibition space below. Otherwise, the design team worked hard to reconcile the existing accommodation with the different elements of the brief.
The matchmaking process followed familiar commercial criteria - shop by the exit; café and shop clearly visible from the street - but it was also informed by a more esoteric logic. A low-ceilinged, rather claustrophobic room, which was part of the original coaching house and still has the original 16thcentury beam, has become the 'Boy' gallery dedicated to Dahl's childhood, much of which was spent in the stifling environment of a disciplinarian boarding school. The lofty proportions of a former village hall house the 'Solo' gallery, which relates Dahl's later, more adventurous, years. The fact that the former is painted dark red, while the latter is an airy cream, exaggerates the sense of liberation as you move between the two.
Where buildings have been retained, the attitude has been very much make and make-do. As project architect Anna MacDougall puts it: 'Is it knackered? If so, how do we make it work?' Drawing parallels between the uncanny qualities of the exposed ancient structures and the more sinister aspects of Dahl's work, MacDougall and her colleague Seth Rutt describe the conservation strategy as a homage to the author. There is also an echo of Dahl's delight in the eclectic and the 'as found', which is exemplified in the collection of curious objects he kept on the table in his writing hut, and of the 'anti-aesthetic' of the hut itself - given that Dahl clearly did not live in abject poverty, the torn linoleum and general air of decay can only be read as an aesthetic choice.
Given the constraints of working to a limited budget and with listed buildings in a conservation area, it is not entirely clear that there was any real alternative to the practice's way of working. But Hawkins\Brown does seem to have gone beyond the bounds of a straightforward, pragmatic approach with this project. Those involved talk about the building almost as another personality involved in the process of design, a capricious individual who would continually throw up problems and solutions in almost equal measure. 'No two walls were parallel or perpendicular, ' MacDougall recalls, 'and a couple of them kept wanting to fall down. There was a 16th-century oak truss hidden behind the plasterboard. When we found it we thought 'that's great, let's keep that exposed'.' The quantity surveyor, David Flower of Appleyard & Trew, was prone to quoting the adage 'old buildings bite back'.
The meandering confusion of the historic fabric is somewhat leavened by the cool linearity of the new glazed gallery which runs along the east side of the courtyard, linking the new and existing buildings and acting as the main circulation route.
The link building has a sedum roof, which the architects describe as a reference to Norway, the birthplace of Dahl's parents. The reference is a little tenuous given that sedum is an alpine plant, but apparently living roofs in general are very much a Norwegian thing. For the record, the birch trees planted in the courtyard are indeed indigenous to Norway. Whatever, the green roof provides thermal and acoustic insulation and adds to the obligatory environmental credentials, as well as forming a pleasing relationship to the fields which are visible from the courtyard.
In many respects the project is a direct development of an earlier Hawkins\Brown scheme, the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire (AJ 15.04.99). There is the same robust palette of materials - Douglas fir, dark-stained timber, Baggeridge Brick - the same simple construction techniques, the same judicious juxtaposition of painstaking conservation and quiet new-build.
As at Henry Moore, the practice set out to create an architecture which would allow the exhibits to take central stage. As MacDougall puts it: 'We wanted to make buildings which might have a longer life than their current use.' That said, there is ample evidence of a close creative collaboration between Hawkins\Brown and exhibition designer Bremner and Orr. Building and exhibition elegantly meet and part like partners in a dance. Sometimes the coming together is overt, such as the outsize door which looks - and smells - like a giant chocolate bar. At others, there is a more casual understanding between the two. Hawkins\Brown is quick to point out the fact that the stable block pavers in the courtyard bear a passing resemblance to the squares of a chocolate bar, but you'd have to have a particularly fertile imagination to make the connection yourself. The relationship between the mini pitched-roofed outline of the replica of Dahl's writing hut and the larger pitch-roofed volume in which it stands is too satisfying to be coincidence, yet too subtle to appear contrived.
The play on scale has echoes of a recurring theme in Dahl's work. Who can forget the giant insects in James and the Giant Peach, or Mike Teavee, who is shrunk to television size, carried off to a machine designed to test the stretchiness of chewing gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? It is also reminiscent of another strand in Hawkins\Brown's work, a playful aesthetic evident in the offices of the Women's Pioneer Housing Association in west London, a friendly-looking box on stilts which hovers over the Central Line, and the Archigram-esque Bradbury Street market stalls in Hackney, East London (AJ 27.01.00).
Here, it is an apt response to the challenge of designing an environment for children. In keeping with the strategy of designing a building which can survive a change of use, it is perhaps appropriate that Hawkins\Brown has avoided the usual box of tricks: upper and lower windows; parallel handrails; staircases with tiny 'in between' steps. Instead they have sought to identify ways in which 'grown-up' architecture can be appropriated by children:
the change in height between the glazed link and courtyard is a step for an adult and a bench for a child. This low-key approach is the only sensible course of action in an environment which is designed not only for adults and children but for Big Friendly Giants as well. Where's the fun in a child-size chair when a pile of outsize paperbacks will serve the purpose just as well?
In truth, there is a fine line between fortuitous accident and architectural intent. Much of the project's Dahl-esque quirkiness is down to the higgledy-piggeldy confusion of the buildings themselves, an echo of the crackpot English countryside portrayed in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Dahl was commissioned to write the screenplay of Ian Fleming's children's classic). The buildings have bitten back in more ways than one. Designed to act as a background, they have instead taken centre stage.
Whether the project is read as a narrative exercise, or simply a pragmatic response to the specifics of building and brief, is a matter of personal taste. In any case, Hawkins\Brown tells a damn good story. And that, after all, is what this is all about.
Cost summary Data based on final account, for gross internal areas. Existing buildings for refurbishment 729m 2.
New build 355m 2 Cost per m 2 Percentage DEMOLITIONS, ALTERATIONS New build 226 3.79 (£) Refurbishment 58 SUBSTRUCTURE SUPERSTRUCTURE Structural works - refurbishment 61 2.11 Structural works - new build 81 1.35 Upper floors - refurbishment 10 0.35 Upper floors - new build 75 1.25 Roof - refurbishment 87 2.99 Roof - new build 347 5.81 Staircases - refurbishment 12 0.43 Staircases - new build 10 0.17 External walls - refurbishment 37 1.27 External walls - new build 206 3.45 Windows, external doors - refurbishment 47 1.63 Windows, external doors - new build 115 1.92 Internal walls, partitions - refurbishment 26 0.91 Internal walls, partitions - new build 87 1.45 Internal doors - refurbishment 23 0.79 Internal doors - new build 45 0.75 Ironmongery - refurbishment 14 0.48 Ironmongery - new build 29 0.48 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 27.61 INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes - refurbishment 108 3.71 Wall finishes - new build 73 1.22 Floor finishes - refurbishment 82 2.83 Floor finishes - new build 86 1.44 Ceiling finishes - refurbishment 67 2.30 Ceiling finishes - new build 63 1.06 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 12.55 FITTINGS AND FURNITURE Refurbishment 23 New build 18 0.30 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 1.11 SERVICES Sanitary appliances - refurbishment 16 0.54 Sanitary appliances - new build 36 0.60 Waste, soil, overflow piping - overall 13 0.68 Cold water services - overall 22 1.11 Hot water services - overall 22 1.12 Heating - overall 135 6.88 Ventilation - overall 126 6.46 Gas services - overall 19 0.96 Electrical services - overall 194 9.93 Lift installation - overall 16 0.81 Builder's work - refurbishment 21 0.72 Builder's Work - new build 36 0.60 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 30.41 EXTERNAL WORKS General - overall 63 3.21 Drainage - overall 58 2.99 External services - overall 14 0.70 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 6.90 PRELIMINARIES - OVERALL 306 15.66 TOTAL 100 Cost data provided by Appleyard & Trew Specification for new-build SUBSTRUCTURE New gallery, WC block and core: piled foundations.
Circulation gallery: in-situ concrete trench-fill foundations. In-situ reinforced-concrete ground slabs, brick and block foundation walls SUPERSTRUCTURE New gallery: Steel portal frame with in-situ reinforced-concrete mezzanine. New core: timber floor joists and plywood deck ROOF New gallery: proprietary steel roof decking, acoustic mineral-wool insulation, vapour-control layer, rigid insulation between timber battens, plywood, fire-rated board, rigid insulation, Tyvek membrane, cedar shingles on battens and counterbatttens.Circulation gallery: timber rafters, plywood deck, sedum roof system. Core:
timber rafters, vapour-control layer, insulation, Tyvek membrane, clay tiles on battens and counterbattens STAIRCASES External: black-stained Douglas fir posts, stringers, landing, treads and handrail. Bespoke stainless flitched 'shoes', non-slip inset nosings.
Internal: Douglas fir treads/risers with non-slip inset nosings, handrail and t&g boarding to lift shaft wall EXTERNAL WALLS Circulation gallery: Douglas fir posts, sill and head plate with double-glazed sealed units bonded back via stainless steel angles. Gallery and core:
Douglas fir timber weatherboarding, battens, breather membrane, counterbattens, rigid insulation, blockwork WINDOWS AND EXTERNAL DOORS Douglas fir-framed, ledged and braced doors.
Douglas fir-framed glazed doors. Aluminium motorised opening vents. Timber tilt-and-turn windows (double glazed) in new openings. All stained black INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS Blockwork and plasterboard/Fermacell-covered metal stud partitions WALL FINISHES Paint finishes to plaster/lined walls. White stain to internal timber FLOOR FINISHES New gallery, Gallery 2, education rooms and circulation gallery: resin on screed. Shop: solid oak strip floor. Gallery 4: bespoke carpet on plywood CEILING FINISHES Paint finishes to plasterboard/plastered ceilings.
White stain to internal timber Credits Tender date January 2004 Start on site February 2004 Completion May 2005 Gross internal floor area 1,084m 2Form of contract Single Stage Main Works Contract JCT 98 with Quantities Total cost £2,119,380 Client Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre Architect Hawkins\Brown: Anna MacDougall, David Bickle, Seth Rutt, Jeremy Walker Structural engineer Price & Myers Environmental engineer Michael Popper Associates Exhibition designer Bremner and Orr Quantity surveyor Appleyard & Trew Planning supervisor Appleyard & Trew Planning consultant Adrienne Hill Planning Consultants Party wall surveyor Peter North & Partners Asbestos consultant Adamson Laboratory Services Historic buildings recorder Archaeological Services and Consultancy Building surveyor Appleyard & Trew Enabling works contractor Durkan Pudelek Main works contractor T & E Neville Subcontractors and suppliers Electrical subcontractor W Portsmouth; mechanical subcontractor Briggs Forrester; flooring subcontractor (resin) Future Flooring;
flooring subcontractor (linoleum & carpet) Hi-Tech Flooring;
ironmongery Higrade; paving Baggeridge Brick; gallery wall linings and paritions Fermacell; WC cubicles and duct panel systems ABP-TBS Partnership; flush-glazed opening windows SeufertNiklaus; resin floor Sika; lime plasterwork Old House Store; tiles Architectural Ceramics; recyled-plastic vanity tops and splashbacks Smile Plastics; sedum roof Erisco Bauder; linoleum Armstrong;
external breathable paint Keim Paints