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Newcomers win Wysing Arts Centre contest

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Dalston-based OEB Architects has won a competition to design the £500,000 overhaul of Wysing Arts Centre’s headquarters in rural Cambridgeshire

The emerging practice – founded by Tessa Baird and David Eland in 2018 – was chosen ahead of bids by Manalo & White and Cooke Fawcett. A total of 46 tenders were submitted for the project.

The centre – which has provided low-cost workspaces to artists since 1989 – announced in November that it was looking for an architect to reconfigure several buildings across its 4.5ha campus. Hawkins\Brown completed a £1.7 million reception and studios block for the centre 11 years ago.

The phased project, planned to start on site later this year, will improve gallery spaces, create a flexible performance space and production space and boost access across the site. It will focus on the gallery, stable block, main studio building, reception, top barn, ceramics studio and tractor shed.

OEB’s winning scheme creates a pavilion to provide a focal point for visitors and reconfigures existing spaces to increase natural light and improve flexibility of use. The practice will now spend a short time in residence at Wysing, reflecting on how artists use the facility before developing its initial concepts into a final scheme.

The practice said: ‘We are very excited to be working with Wysing on its next phase of works, with an approach of focused alterations and additions that help to improve the access, usability and sustainability of the site. We aim to balance the need for adaptable and undetermined spaces with legibility and connection between the different elements, making the most of the character of what already exists.’

Wysing Arts Centre director Donna Lynas said: ‘Wysing has hosted many artists over the past 30 years and welcomed many thousands of visitors. Some of the most exciting art in the UK is being made right here and our buildings need to be able to support that level of working.’  

The centre is 14km west of Cambridge near the village of Bourn, occupying a former farm which features elements dating back to the 17th century. Facilities include artist studios, a gallery, a recording studio, project spaces, artist accommodation, a ceramics workshop, and outdoor sculpture areas.

Since 1989, the centre has hosted a variety of residency programmes supported by Tate and other organisations such as the Royal College of Art and Cambridge University. Participating artists have included Mark Essen, the video artist and poet Ed Atkins, and 2018 Turner Prize-winning filmmaker Charlotte Prodger.

The latest project aims to boost the site’s accessibility, energy efficiency, and the visitor experience. It will focus on Wysing Arts Centre’s eight main buildings but not the Grade II-listed farmhouse, a 2007 straw bale studio, nor a performance venue by AJ Small Projects 2011-winning Köbberling & Kaltwasser.

Earlier this year, OEB Architects completed an £800,000 extension and refurbishment of a Victorian townhouse in Kentish Town, north London. 

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