Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, Ditchling, East Sussex

Introduction

In the years before the First World War the typographer and sculptor Eric Gill and the graphic designer Edward Johnston, (best known for his sans serif typeface for London Underground) moved to Ditchling, a rural village on the Sussex Downs above Brighton. Influenced by the teachings of William Morris, they formed a loose community with other artists and craftspeople, including printer and poet Hilary Pepler, poet and artist David Jones, hand weaver Ethel Mairet and silversmith Dunstan Pruden. The community eventually dwindled but the tradition of creativity remained and in 1985 a small museum, celebrating the work of its famous artistic residents, was set up in Ditchling’s Victorian village school.

By 2010 the museum had deteriorated; obscure and unseen, it was hidden from the village green by a rickety fence and could reached only by a path through the cemetery. The village green itself had been a farmyard until the 1950s and two agricultural buildings still stood on it; one had been converted into the village hall; the other – a listed 18th century cart lodge – was neglected and deteriorating.

Today the museum has been updated and revitalized by Adam Richards Architects. One of the keys to its success is the incorporation of the cart lodge into the new plan; it has been converted into a new entrance to allow the museum to open directly onto the village green and is linked to the original museum, now refurbished, by two new buildings. The architect’s brief expanded to include exhibition design, so that the collection and buildings could be integrated and exhibits related to the places where they were made. As the architect explains: ‘We worked with the museum’s disparate range of existing buildings to find thoughtful, innovative solutions to upgrading their fabric and functions while highlighting their original aesthetics. We also chose to explore the poetic possibilities opened-up by designing new buildings that not only complement the old, but that enhance our understanding of the existing buildings, by reflecting the principles of their construction using contemporary technology’.Timber played a key role in the restoration of the original buildings and the structure of the new. The original oak trusses have been repaired and exposed, the galleries are floored with oak boards and the walls of the restored Victorian schoolroom are lined with vertical matchboarding, to reflect the original cladding.

Cross-laminated timber is used throughout the new buildings, chosen for its economy, for its ability to provide large unobstructed volumes and for its structural ‘honesty’. The thickness and size of the panels are celebrated and detailed to express the structural forces.

 

The cart lodge and the new buildings

The listed late 18th century cart lodge - oak trusses, brick/flint walls and an earth floor – was in poor condition. It has been restored to house a café, shop, and a new entrance, protected by a pair of timber ‘portals’ resembling a pair of barn doors standing open.

The roof was taken off and a plywood ‘box’ placed over the oak stick frame structure to stabilise it. The oak frame was retained as far as possible, with reclaimed or new seasoned oak members used where the originals had to be replaced.

The walls were insulated and clad with horizontal oak (featheredge) weatherboarding to retain the original exterior of the building. Breathable technology was used, including wall and roof membranes and a new Limecrete slab floor. Internal fittings - ticket desk, café bar and shop display units - are all made from off-cuts of cross-laminated timber; their setting, beneath a canopy of exposed oak structure, is an example of old and new timber technology encountered side-by-side.

The cart lodge is at village green level and is connected to the main museum, which is at a higher level, by a new Link building which follows the slope of the bank and contains a stair and lift. From the stairs visitors enter another new building, the Introductory Room. A meditative space, it has a 4 metre high window overlooking the village green and pond to one side and on the other side, a contemporary version of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, acting as an introduction to the collection, the village and its history. The cabinet and its shelves are all made of cross-laminated timber. The rest of the building is taken up with a new state-of-the-art Collection Store and WCs.

Both the Link and the Introductory Room are constructed of cross-laminated timber panels clad with hand-made tiles and black zinc sheet, supported on a base of glazed black brick. This concept - a timber structure on a masonry base - is a contemporary re-interpretation of the cart lodge structure The cross-laminated timber panels are exposed internally and treated with a special white dye; this, combined with the black bricks and black zinc, alludes to the black and white print collections of the museum.

Every opening through the cross-laminated timber reveals its thickness, while hand-crafted chamfers to the edges delineate each panel.

 

The main galleries

From the Introductory room, the entrance to the main galleries, the former classrooms of the village school, is clear; the engineered timber walls peel back like a proscenium arch to reveal the flint outer walls of the old school building, which have been given a light lime wash. The matchboard-lined character of the former classrooms has been retained, while high levels of environmental control have been introduced. Specially designed display cases of works by Eric Gill dominate the centre of the main galleries. Other displays use the stories of different makers and artists to build up a picture of the individuals and their work. The culmination of the museum is a new gallery which houses the Stanhope Press and associated printed works on paper.

The floors of the galleries were strengthened and covered with new solid oak boards; walls and ceilings were stripped back before being insulated and re-lined with ply and matchboarding to conceal services. Beyond the galleries, a former ‘rabbit warren’ of small rooms within the old school has been opened up to create a new multi-functional learning space, offices, WCs and kitchenette. The former headmaster’s house has been transformed into a double-height reading room.

 

The use of cross-laminated timber

The grain direction, jointing and finish of the cross-laminated timber panels, manufactured by KLH UK, were particularly carefully considered as the structure is exposed internally. The cross-laminated timber planks were made of kiln dried finger jointed spruce, and were manufactured and cut to size in Austria. The timber comes from sustainably managed forests and the adhesive used between panels is solvent and formaldehyde free. All timber supplied on the project came with an FSC ‘Chain of Custody Certificate.’

Completion Date:

September 2013

Year Published:

November 2014

Building Type:

Museum

Location:

Ditchling, East Sussex

Client:

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Architect:

Adam Richards Architects

Structural Engineer:

Price & Myers

Main Contractor:

Westridge Construction Limted

Joinery:

Parker and Highland Joinery Ltd (Shop and servery), Sebastian Pedley (Display Case Joinery)

Timber Supplier:

KLH UK LTD

Timber Elements:

Cross-laminated roof and wall structure, cladding, joinery, doors, fitted furniture, flooring

Timber Species:

Austrian spruce, English oak

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