Q&A session with Chaplin Farrant's Stuart Deacon, Associate Architect, on the Cultural Quarter Project in Lowestoft
The Cultural Quarter, one of five regeneration projects which are detailed within the Town Investment Plan, received £24.9m from the Government’s Towns Fund to help makes places better for current and future generations. The Design Team working on the Cultural Quarter is led by Norwich-based Architects Chaplin Farrant. Chaplin Farrant has extensive knowledge of Lowestoft and have previously worked on many local projects including the Eastern Edge beach hut development, The former Post Office restoration work, and refurbishments Lowestoft College. Chaplin Farrant are really pleased to be working on the project and we have held an interview with Stuart Deacan to understand his thoughts on the project.
1. What’s your role at Chaplin Farrant?
As an Associate Architect, I oversee and run projects from inception to completion. The work is incredibly diverse and every day is different, one day I may be sketching out designs for beach huts and the next I’ll be on site resolving intricate construction details for an office building. The variety and unpredictability of the job are what make it so rewarding.
2. What interests you about the projects in Lowestoft?
It’s a town full of potential that has deep rooted heritage and sense of pride. It is Britian’s most easterly town and its unique geographical position means it is sandwiched between the stunning sandy beaches on the east coast and the natural beauty of the Norfolk Broads to the west. From its fishing industry roots to progressing to being at the forefront of the renewable energy sector its interesting to see how the town has and continues to be sculpted by the sea and water. With its location, history, industry and ambition it is an incredibly exciting time to be working on regeneration projects in Lowestoft to help it reach its clear potential and see it thrive by activating and enhancing the town’s inherent character and sense of place.
3. How would you describe the Lowestoft to someone who didn’t know it?
A town full of untapped potential positioned in an incredible part of the country.
4. What is your favourite building along the East Coast?
In terms of its architectural significance, whilst it’s not quite on the coast, my favourite building in East Anglia has always been the Sainsbury’s Centre for the Visual Arts in Norwich, by Norman and Wendy Foster. Throughout my studies and career I’ve always been fascinated by the high-tech movement and the architectural strategies used still influence my work today. Much akin to an industrial warehouse, the Sainsbury’s Centre is a great example of how the high-tech style transitioned into cultural buildings to provide an unobstructed gallery space uncluttered by utilities and services which are all contained within the building’s double-layer walls and roof. With its adjustable cladding system and modular structure, it was designed to be endlessly extendable and adaptable both externally and internally. When you see the building in person, it is hard to believe that it was completed 45 years ago in 1978. It’s a building I often visit as it always has interesting exhibitions on and it’s in a beautiful location right next to the marshes and boardwalks.
Closer to the coast, and a much more domestic scale, is Hunsett Mill which is a remote water pumping mill extension situated by the River Ant just upstream from Sutton Broads, designed by ACME. To make the new extension behind the listed setting of the mill, the new addition is conceived as a shadow of the existing house, which is an incredibly simple concept but could easily have failed in such a beautiful setting. By adding a dark timber volume with materials that respond to the Broads vernacular language, and by virtue of the facade and pitched roof geometries, the form of the extension is ambiguous when approaching on the river and feels like it is something that belongs to the site without reverting to false mimicry of the vernacular. Not all architecture has to stand out and I believe that it is so important that the architectural language responds to and respects the context. This extension is a demonstration of a building being humble and submissive to enhance the beautiful context.
5. Where is your favourite place?
As you can probably tell I have a bit of an affinity with the Broads and am fortunate enough to live right next to River Yare. My favourite past time is taking out the canoe on the waterways and getting closer to nature. It’s a great way to exercise whilst lowering your stress levels and I find it gives me a sense of perspective and time to reflect.
If I’m not out on the broads then you’ll likely find me in my workshop / studio, which I designed and built myself. It was designed to be as sustainable and easy to build as possible and it has given us a space where we can relax, play and be creative with amazing views over the fields beyond. The process of building something from scratch was incredibly rewarding and we’ve ended up with a space that has really improved our lives.
6. Who has been your greatest professional inspiration?
There are so many architects that have inspired me throughout my career. If I had to choose just one, I guess it would be Renzo Piano. I love architecture that is readable, understandable and elegant. Buildings which clearly respond to their environment and context and are considerate and humble in their materiality. I think one of the best examples of an architect doing this, is the Jean-Maria Tjibaou Cultural Centre in New Caledonia by Piano, which is much lesser known than his more famous buildings such as the Shard in London and Pompidou Centre in Paris. The Cultural Centre is a fantastic example of how architecture can celebrate and respect the local culture and environment. To me, this building is a masterpiece of cultural and ecological sensitivity, as well as a beautiful expression of Renzo Piano’s artistic vision.
7. How does Chaplin Farrant go from a concept design to a final design for a beautiful building?
Whether the final building is considered beautiful to everyone is rather subjective. As a design team, we are well aware of how subjective this creative discipline is and approach every project with a fresh set of eyes to avoid any preconceived ideas.
Developing a concept that responds to the unique characteristics of the project such as the site, the client requirements, the building typology and most importantly the end user, gives us confidence and assurance that everything beyond this stage is appropriate and considered as long as the concept narrative is interwoven into every decision moving forward. The concept is what separates a building from a piece of architecture and gives the project rationale and meaning.
As the design is developed, layers of meaning are added to the original conceptual framework. Developing form, materiality and language that respond to the place to bring the concept to life. We also consider the experience of a place and the spaces within it, how people will travel through those spaces, the views they will experience, the feeling evoked by the architecture through the use of light, materiality and volume and how the building reduces its impact on the environment.
As with any art form, we recognise we are unable to please everyone with the architectural aesthetics, but this is what makes design so exciting and evokes such a crucial dialogue in architectural evolution and innovation. However, it is much harder to question the concept narrative and the reasoning behind design decisions if they intrinsically respond to the very fabric of the place and the people that will use and interact with the building, hence why the concept is so important in creating successful architecture.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Architecture (education and practice) is by no means easy, but it’s very rewarding if you put in the hard work and dedication. If you have a passion for making a difference and transforming the way people live through creative thinking and problem solving I would encourage you to pursue it. The best advice I can give is to focus on the things that actually matter in life and make sure you care about the work you are doing and take pride in the outcome, if you don’t then the profession will be incredibly unfulfilling, and people won’t want to work with you. If you have the drive and passion, then it’s an amazing way to leave your mark on the world and create something truly meaningful.
We are excited for what’s to come with the design work and will share this once ready later in the summer.