Matthew Richardson of ABIR Architects on the Gateway Buildings

The Museum’s stunning new visitor centre is finally nearing completion and an Easter opening! It has been a long journey, some 15 years since it was first proposed after the opening of the Downland Gridshell. We have been tracking its progress in the magazine and many of you have contributed financially helping us to meet our contribution to supplement the £4 million generously granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Plans and drawings have turned into real structures and landscape, and we asked the architects to describe the concepts behind the project.

Matthew Richardson of Hove-based ABIR Architects on the buildings . . .

ABIR architects were awarded this wonderful and complex project in Summer 2013, and the process began to help deliver a new vision for the Museum, its committed visitors, friends and staff. The brief was threefold: a new ‘Gateway’ built by the Museum’s millpond, encompassing entry, retail, galleries, café, community spaces and car park works. We were to lead the design process alongside the Museum and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The design concept is based around farmstead village clusters – opening views, vistas and connections into the Museum with two new groups of buildings set either side of a central entry court. The dichotomy for ABIR was the design intent – was it to be a pastiche or a modern, stark white box in the heart of the South Downs National Park? – the answer was neither. The wonderful setting, with its collection spanning over 600 years, was key to informing the architecture. To replicate any one style or period would have been inappropriate, but this harnessed a common theme – a response to the Museum’s numerous timber-framed elements, components, connections, junctions and materiality, and the relationship with the educational aspect of the Museum itself; we developed ‘Frame and Plane’.

The Gateway buildings themselves are designed to stimulate discussion, engagement and interaction for all users and audiences, and are based around a number of primary components – the green-oak timber frame with stainless steel connections, the internal planes of the cross- laminated timber and the external materials.

The timber frame makes clear references to its historic counterparts whilst wholly marrying the traditional with modern technology. Sizable sections of green-oak connect through exposed stainless steel components at every junction expressing the two materials, and providing the visitor with a clear understanding of the structural composition – a celebration of all elements working together as one complete structure. When viewed as a whole, the ‘flying’ members and the ‘kite roof’ echo, in part, the undulating roof of the Gridshell building, its contemporary predecessor to the south of the Gateway.

The galleries and café spaces are constructed from an exposed cross-laminated timber structure. These planar elements have been meticulously conceived, set out and CNC factory cut before being transported to site and erected in less than two weeks. They truly represent a modern form of timber construction.

Finally, whilst honestly representing modern timber technology, the marriage and integration with the external materials has also been fully explored. The 60,000 locally sourced hand-cleft timber shakes to the roofs of the two entry buildings, aligned with the sweet chestnut cladding and the two different hand-made Keymer Tiles (Antique and Elizabethan) to roofs and walls of the galleries are seen alongside black-seamed zinc to the kitchen, café and community spaces. All materials take their cues from the site and wider environs representing the blend and craftsmanship of these natural elements.”