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Super Shed: Buschow Henley's Junction Arts and Civic Centre

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[PHOTOS+PLANS+DETAILS] Buschow Henley’s Junction Arts and Civic Centre in Goole offers a fresh perspective on the humble English shed, writes Geoff Shearcroft

The English have a certain fondness for sheds. The simple garden variety is an integral part of the national consciousness; a symbol of our inventiveness, eccentricity and economy. Its evolution could be read as a division between the common and the noble. The common shed includes the vast majority of the type, from the agricultural shed to the behemoth that is the contemporary distribution shed. Cheap, simple, efficient, frequently short-lived, it is the dominant typology of the modern age, springing up all over the land, unencumbered (on the whole) by the baggage of architects’ attentions. By contrast, noble sheds – Bankside, St Pancras, Swindon Railway Works, Rotherham’s ‘Steelos’ – have outlived the expediencies of their creation to become buildings that people reuse and cherish.

Junction, a new arts and civic centre in the Yorkshire port town of Goole, reinvents the crinkly-tin market shed as a noble civic building without losing its common touch. It is an attempt by architect Buschow Henley to create a weighty shed of which people can be almost instantly fond.

The site for the centre was a 1980s shed-like extension to the 1896 Market Hall. Described by the architect as ‘an ugly thing’, Buschow Henley nonetheless proposed retaining its useful elements for the new building. The existing building was stripped back to its foundations and its slab and steel portal frame – an economically astute decision that also ensured the embodied energy of these significant elements was not wasted. The frame was adapted in places, externally reclad, and internally lined and partitioned with plasterboard to accommodate a diverse range of uses.

After 12 years of development led by Charlie Studdy, Goole Town Council’s arts manager, the brief for the new building was well-considered, thorough and ambitious. Goole needed a single building in the centre of town to contain not only a growing local theatre, but also its formal civic life, council chamber and offices, and a community centre. Forty years ago it would have been described as a ‘social condenser’; think Alvar Aalto’s 1950s Säynätsalo Town Hall in Finland crossed with Cedric Price’s 1971 Interaction Centre in London, reduced into a concentrated form.

The tall block sits tight within the footprint of the old shed, but the spaces are generous

The scheme houses this programmatic mix in a tall, rectangular block that sits tight within the cranked footprint of the old shed. The only public entrance brings visitors into a red lobby in the centre of the building. From here they can turn right to the café and performance workshop, head straight up the stairs to the council chamber and offices, or turn left to the toilets and the 170-seat theatre. Despite the demands of the brief and the constrained site, Buschow Henley’s public spaces are generous, often double-height and with compact auxiliary spaces lining the footprint as necessary.

The new theatre is a black box with an excellent relationship to its backstage facilities and electronically operated bleacher seating. The acoustic is good, with no acoustic break-in – a remarkable feat given the available budget and the direct access to the street.

The auditorium has been designed to re-house The Gate, a theatre previously located in a cramped, intimate Methodist chapel. Maintaining this familiar intimacy while doubling capacity led to the seating’s single aisle being set at an angle, to avoid performers staring down an empty aisle, and chairs in three tones of red being used to foreshorten the performers’ view.

The stage’s technical infrastructure and cinema provision required more height than the original shed allowed, so portal frames above the auditorium have been extended up, with exposed bolted connections providing a subtle reminder of the shed’s past life. Less subtle is balcony cladding that borrows materials from the new external cladding to give a generic space specific character.

Externally, Junction retains many of the qualities of the previous building through the architect’s attempt to evoke the familiarity of the ‘industrial sheds that line the quays’. Buschow Henley has added weightiness and significance to the shed through a series of formal and material adaptations. The addition of a horizontal parapet to the raised frame of the auditorium creates a secular tower that works well as a civic signifier when glimpsed from the adjacent high street. It breaks up the building’s silhouette to create an assemblage indicative of an evolved history, but synthesised into a coherent whole with continuous cladding of charcoal Marley Eternit panels. A solid canopy provides a sheltered walkway along the busy pedestrian route between the high street and Wesley Square car park, and above this cantilever the building broods, solemn, dark and aloof. Below, it actively invites the public to touch, with a gold stainless-steel, super-charged soffit above a long, panelled spruce ply wall.

The building is most successful where the ambiguities between old and new result in suggestive spaces

During its first month after opening, Junction was inundated with questions about when the building would be finished; people assumed the ply was an unfinished hoarding. For any public building to last it needs to be capable of adapting to the changing demands of diverse publics, and this unintentionally indeterminate surface may ultimately contribute to the long-term success of the building. Beyond the control of the architect, the centre has already begun to acquire contributions from others: a competition-winner’s name attached to its facade; a set of metal gates produced in conjunction with local school children. Less apparent additions include the post-contract drapes and cinema screen that contribute to the overall success of the theatre.

Portal frames above the auditorium have been extended up, with exposed bolted connections providing a subtle reminder of the shed’s past life

In many ways, Junction appears to be a new building with little of the old apparent. Yet the building is most successful where the ambiguities between old and new result in adaptive, suggestive spaces. The new council chamber is tight up against the roof structure, with steel members dictating a spatial complexity that gives a welcome domestic character to a community-focused space. The southern end of the rectangular building is attached to adjacent buildings by a faceted canopy that follows the footprint of the old structure. With exposed joists, fluorescent tubes and red anti-nesting mesh, it provides a covered connection between the public thoroughfare, an adjacent yard (soon to be occupied by artist-inhabited shipping containers) and the centre’s performance workshop. The overall effect is of a fully serviced electro-barn, ripe for occupation by market traders, artists and passing visitors alike.

From anecdotal evidence, larger-than-expected audiences and personal observation, it appears Junction may already have achieved its aim of being a building people are fond of. Buschow Henley has maximised the usefulness, familiarity, adaptability and experiential potential of the contemporary shed to suggest an appropriate architecture for a new English civic centre.

Geoff Shearcroft is a co-founding director of AOC Architecture

Start on site September 2008
Contract duration 12 months
Gross internal floor area 1,300m2
Form of contract JCT standard with quantities 2005
Total cost £2.45 million
Cost per m2 £1,885
Client Goole Town Council
Architect Buschow Henley
Project manager Turner and Townsend
Structural engineer Techniker
Quantity surveyor Bernard Williams Associates
M&E consultant RYB Konsult
Planning supervisor Bowman Riley Health
and Safety
Main contractor Houlton
Annual CO2 emissions 41.5kg/m (predicted)

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