Framing History

ABIR completes a contextual timber-built gateway to the Weald & Downland Museum


Jim Stephenson

A new gateway building at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Sussex is modelled on the design of farmstead village clusters, with two groups of building set either side of a central entry court, adjoining a millpond. Designed by architect ABIR, the £6m project includes a newly configured car park, visitor centre, shop, cafe and community space, and its completion concludes 10 years of planning, design and construction.


The new buildings are intended as a “transitional gateway, connecting the twenty-first century to the museum’s collection”, which comprises over 50 traditional buildings representing the vernacular architecture of the South East of England, dotted across a 40-acre landscape. They are clad in local materials including 60,000 hand-made sweet chestnut roof shakes and hand-made clay tiles, echoing elements from many of the museum’s rural farm complexes. These materials are seen alongside seamed black zinc to the kitchen, cafe and community spaces.


Their construction is conceived as a mix of frames and planes, combining cross-laminated timber panels and green oak frames with readily visible stainless steel connections. For the architects the question was “Is it to be a pastiche or a modern, stark white box in the heart of the South Downs National Park?”, says ABIR’s Matthew Richardson. “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”. The hybrid structural structural language of the buildings is “a response to the museum’s numerous timber-framed elements, components, connections, junctions and materiality”.

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