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ISSN 1365-7437

touchst ne The magazine for Architecture in Wales

December 2011



Touchstone is back with much to celebrate at a moment when Wales needs to get smarter at defeating the doom-sayers.



Two authors of award-winning, low-carbon architecture recount the contrasting intellectual journeys that underpin their work.



A major patron of social housing architecture in Wales has moved on to pastures new. We pay tribute to what he achieved.



The architecture of higher education has experienced a substantial change in quality. Jonathan Adams looks at four of the kind.



Television and architecture can make uneasy bedfellows. Do they really improve the public’s understanding?



At last, decent furniture selection is being afforded its proper place in the hierarchy of what makes a public comfort.



Has postmodernism found its true home in the land of fictional reality? We pay a visit to the BBC’s new Roath Lock Studios.

NORTHERN LIGHTS Two outstanding new galleries in the north set the pace: how does the rest of Wales keep up and measure up?

Issue eighteen









W a l e s ’ Wi nn e r s


Over the last four years (2008-11) Wales has won an increasing number of RIBA Awards each year. The winners are illustrated here and on the back cover 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Blue Door RIBA Award winner 2011 Hall & Bednarczyk Architects Ltd: Photo Leighton Morris Cardiff Central Library RIBA Award winner 2010 Building Design Partnership: Photo David Barbour Photography Skypad – Teenage Cancer Trust Unit RIBA Award winner 2010 ORMS Architecture Design: Photo James Brittain Ruthin Craft Centre RIBA Award winner 2009 Sergison Bates Architects: Photo Ioana Marinescu Oriel Mostyn RIBA Award winner 2011 Ellis Williams Architects: Photo Patrick Hannay Penderyn Distillery Visitor Centre RIBA Award winner 2009 David Archer Architects: Photo Keith Collie Creative Business Units RIBA Award winner 2010 Heatherwick Studio: Photo Edmund Sumner Chapter Arts Centre RIBA Award winner 2010 Ash Sakula Architects: Photo Jon Pountney

touchst ne The magazine for Architecture in Wales

Atipping turning point It’s good to be back, but we are only here thanks to the generosity of the RSAW Leadership Group of major practices and the tireless efforts of past president Pierre Wassenaar and the RSAW team. We have gone electronic for RSAW members but are still disseminating printed copies to as many of Wales’s policy makers and cultured interests as our limited funds will allow. This is in all our interests. We still intend to be a magazine of record, supportive critique and polemic. In the past decade, Wales has hosted the fruits of a dramatic rise in quality patronage (p.9). This issue records more of that. Devolution eventually brought confidence and investment. There was no one else to blame anymore. It was down to us and we have shown ourselves what was possible. Higher education renewed its estate with an eye to becoming a proper extension to the civic fabric (p.10). Lottery funds allowed a profusion of arts, museum and heritage projects to blossom (p.30). These two sectors account for many of the seventeen RIBA awards in four years, a huge change from the preceding years. In television and film, Wales is now a major player and venue (pp.20 & 28). We are still at the forefront of architecture that encapsulates deep sustainability, not add-on eco (p.2). However, some would say that the party is over as the global capitalism of the casino-banker variety reaches its nemesis. This issue may record the end of that era, but for Wales we could be only just beginning something more intriguing. Cut loose from a lot of London-centric misanthrope, there is a lot of radical imagination at work in Wales for a rising social-enterprise economy based on mutualist principles. Unglamorous housing remains an achilles heel as does social care provision; a 1:4 retired to active worker ratio shifting to 1:2 by 2050 will

remake our landscape. The high density city as farm and productive garden and the rural ‘urban’ village may have to infect our mindsets. While the best architects may have become very good at external showmanship and internal comfort, the future will require a more radical imagination to remodel what we have with less flash but more punk, more Cedric Price than Norman Foster. The architectural imagination may not so much make fabric, but event. The next issue in March will be redesigned and will explore some of this in the light of a forward-looking vision. Patrick Hannay “Nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts - the Book of their Deeds, the Book of their Words, and the Book of their Art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last ...

... Art is always instinctive; and the honesty and the pretence of it are therefore open to the day. The evidence therefore, of the third book is the most vital to our knowledge of any nation’s life”. John Ruskin: ‘St Mark’s Rest’ 1901 (with thanks to Peter Wilson, Scotland)


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Two-way conversation A commitment to a low-carbon architecture is a shared goal of many of Wales’s architectural practices and those in academia. David Lea and Wayne Forster set out a wider and deeper perspective of what drives their intent on two RIBA award-winning projects.

Language, space and meaning David Lea

I like John Ruskin's idea that we ask two things of our buildings: that they shelter us and that they speak to us, of whatever we find important and of which we need to be reminded. Beyond the practical business of construction lies the question of meaning and, since need is involved, this question has an ethical force. Meaning in the language of architecture is communicated first through the syntax of space relationships, so we are immediately confronted by questions of site and programme. We can see our site from the circling space station. It is that blue, green and silver line that girdles the earth, infinitesimally thin in the vastness of space and terribly fragile, just an emanation from the surface of the planet. We have to wrap walls around a tiny bit of that site and divide it up to satisfy the client's brief. And when we dig for the foundations we find that there is only about 150mm where plants grow. This is the depth on which the lives of all landbased creatures depend. So the vulnerability of the biosphere, and our duty to guard its integrity for future generations, are the first things we ask our buildings to remind us of. How can they do this? Architecture intensifies experience and


Above and facing page: Suprising and intense ways that the building frames contrasting views to the land, as you move through and around its colonnades and galleries, with light from the sky a constant shifting presence. All colour photos by Tim Soar Above left: A new part of the village on a hill, set in its magnificent landscape. The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE) at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Above centre top and below: A sudden intense meeting with the slate leads to open galleries to the bedrooms, offering a halfway space between artifice and nature, open to the sensuality of the elements. Above right: Three courtyards climb up the hill; the first one here is of the earth at ground entrance level; the second is of cloister, shelter and water (facing page) and the third opens up to the sky and the landscape beyond (see p. 4)

awareness by manipulating and concentrating space, sound and light. Views out to the surrounding landscape can change and unfold in surprising and intense ways as we move through a building. Daylight and sunlight can shine in from many different directions to tell us of time and weather. We can open every space to the warmth of sunlight and to the sounds of wind, water and bird song. At the heart of this experience lies our response to the beauty of nature, to the amazing complexity and harmony of nature's patterns and its ceaselessly changing effects. To reflect this beauty in our buildings should be the architect's primary concern. We intended the WISE building to show that these complex, life-enhancing relationships can be contained within simple, enclosing masses and planes constructed mainly of low-energy materials, earth, wood, hemp and lime. Connections Connections between rooms Many of the rooms in WISE are connected by open cloisters, galleries or verandas, far richer in delight than the more economical internal corridor. These spaces lie half way between the contained, artificial world inside, and nature outside. The precise relationship can be

tuned to respond to view and light, orchestrating our experience and touching our feelings as we journey through the building. The cloister around the courtyard is both a sheltered route to the workshops and a covered outside space for the social areas of the foyer and the bar.(pic) The doors can stand open on warm rainy days, and it is a lovely place to be when the evening sun reflects sparkling light from the water pools onto the walls and ceilings.( pic) Connection to water Water control is central to the story of CAT. Water from the reservoir in the hills above the quarry drove the wheel that powered the slatecutting machinery. This is a high rainfall area and we wanted to express it dramatically in the

s rainwater system of the building. (Fig) An early sketch shows the intention: the levels of the building step up the slate tip to the east, rain falls, the run-off cascades from terrace to terrace, spouts into shallow pools in the lower courtyard, and pours down between the heavy slate walls of the old waterwheel pit to be conducted away to the river below. Connection to sky Windows to the sky light many of the spaces in our buildings. This is an efficient way of getting enough light into a building and it has dramatic effects: sunlight can penetrate right into the heart of the building, casting constantly changing streams of light upon the walls, turning it into an inhabited sundial. When wandering the spaces at night when the sky is cloudless, you can look up and see the moon and stars. The circular lecture theatre in WISE is lit by an oculus in the centre. The space is darkened for lectures by the moon-disc, pivoted at its circumference to enable it to rotate slowly around a track until the opening is eclipsed, when a penumbra of light is reflected upwards onto the ceiling. Closing or opening takes three minutes, a pause for thought, or for memories of the slow darkening of the world during a real solar eclipse. Materials and construction

Timber and hemp-lime WISE is a timber-framed building but the plan is not determined by a rigid structural grid. The client's brief has priority over the structural system. Like the traditional Japanese Kyo-ma method the structure follows the room layout and columns can be placed almost anywhere. Since the days of Walter Segal’s two inch thick walls we have pursued the optimum relationship between the frame and the increasing thickness of insulation. At WISE the 500 mm thick hemp-lime walls are placed on the wall centre line, so the frame emerges from the wall only at window openings and

over the wide spans of the foyer and workshops. This occurs consistently throughout the building, suggesting the hidden presence of the structure within the wall. The rammed-earth lecture theatre The circular form was a request of the client

Above top left and centre: Sky- light and materials of the ground, the grain of the rammed earth wall to the lecture theatre. When darkness is required a single full height sliding door closes of the view, and a moon disc slides across the oculus (see p.4) Above bottom left: The cloister round the water. The stone plinth held the former water driven mill wheel for the slate mine. Above right: a glimpse of your journey ahead, moving up and out of the ground floor restaurant.

after attending a conference in Denmark held in a similar shaped space. The diameter is similar to the Tholos, Agamemnon’s tomb, at Mycenae, built about 1750 BCE. This building is constructed of huge, closely-fitted blocks and has tremendous power. We hoped that our space might share some of its ancient predecessor’s numinous quality.

The earth was rammed in hired, re-usable ply shuttering that can be bent to various radii, normally used for curved concrete construction like silos. The circle was made in four sections, each one being a complete, homogeneous wall from top to bottom.

Tradition and the way ahead



The WISE building at CAT

Tradition and the way ahead The WISE building is both a college of further education and a conference centre. An educational facility of this kind is part of a long history of buildings that require small spaces to sleep in, attached to large spaces where the community gathers. The colleges of Oxford and Cambridge inherit the cells, refectories and churches of medieval monasteries, as they in turn precede the bedrooms, restaurant and lecture theatre of the WISE building. In this history we move away from the idealised, inward-looking plan, with its


Above left: The rammed earth wall lecture theatre with its moon disc open. The generous fixed seating area is designed to allow a further row of loose seats or tables to inhabit the space between each row. All colour photos by Tim Soar Above centre top: View from upper level of bedooms to the top courtyard. Above centre below: a skylight centred meeting room. Above top right: The view from the end of the journey; the largest seminar room with a view back the landscape from where you came to CAT. Above right: The projecting large seminar room window organically opens out the geometry of the plan to the land and focuses the view. See also far right hand of drawing (facing page).

concern with geometry and its possible cosmological significance, towards a greater freedom and an openness to the world beyond the building. This feels more natural and appropriate for a building that gradually reveals itself as you move through it, like

exploring a village on a hill.( pics) We retain vestiges of forms that have a universal validity, for example the cloister or, at the level of detail, entasis, that almost imperceptible curving taper of free-standing round columns used in classical Greek architecture from at least 700 BCE and also in China and Japan. Without this refinement columns appear clumsy, but with it they seem

to bear witness to their load-bearing energy, inhabiting the space in a rather human way. We recognise the value of the lessons of architectural traditions, but the imitation of past styles is as empty of meaning and interest as the opposite extreme, the creation of buildings that mask a self-regard indifferent to their real effects on others and on nature. We want to build in an appropriate, straightforward and simple way for the time in which we live, integrating the wonderful advances towards transparency and openness offered by the development of glass, with the need to harm nature as little as possible. In this world view the lessons of Gaia, of the earth as a self-regulating system, may come to occupy the guiding position held by the more abstract and idealised cosmologies of the past.

Wayne Forster comments on WISE There are a number of common concerns – the circulatory ‘edge’, constructional composition, light and view specific to place and an interest in the connection between tradition and innovation – but I think both see architecture as subject, not object – very old fashioned. In David’s recent work I think he has much more confidence than us in what might be called ‘plastic’ form and it may be the use of cast materials that have promoted this. His opus – ranging from the proto-Japanese sheltered housing through to the work at the Royal Agricultural College - means he has a much deeper understanding of materials than us and I

think this shows in the work. Most critically I think his work has more ‘heart’ or poesis than ours in a ‘Pallasmaa’ kind of way. We are still drinking with the Italian rationalists – and wear our austerity on our sleeve. We, of course, benefit from contact with the likes of Christian Sumi, David Leatherbarrow and Dean Hawkes and other distinguished visitors, and for a small practice have access to facilities that only much larger practices could manage – this is stimulating for young architects who are perhaps more driven than some of their contemporaries. We have visited David and talked about the Graübunden and how all that could and should


happen in Wales. What strikes me most is that neither of us would prequalify for one of these particular projects under current procurement practice. We have had to earn enlightened patronage. Our days are numbered – Phil Roberts are you out there? Below: Cut-away section isometric of the materials and assembly for WISE. Note, the lower entrance cloistered courtyard and extension to the existing restaurant is not shown.

Client: Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT); Phil Horton, Danny Harris; The User group Archit ects: Pat Borer and David Lea with Alison Jardine Contractor (completion): C.Sneade Contractor (initial): Frank Galliers QS: Bowen Consultants Structural and Fire Engineer: Buro Happold Services Engineer: Mott Macdonald Fulcrum Acoustics: Paul Gillieron Glulam timber frame: Lilleheden Hemcrete and renders: Lime Technology and Quickseal Solar heating array: NG Bailey Glazing: AMB and Red Kite Photovoltaic roof: Dulas Engineering Photography: Tim Soar


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The Margam Eco Discovery Centre

Critical reflection Wayne Forster

This project (executed in collaboration with Loyn and Co) illustrates a number of themes inherent in most of our recent work. Within the studio we refer to these as ‘themes’ but on reflection they are like mini-theses – arguments for or against certain things. The unique site and altered landscapes “There is no such thing as a Welsh Architecture” Jan Morris wrote but conceded that if there was one distinctive hallmark of the building art of Wales it exists in the conciliatory power, the ability to unite a structure with its setting, and make it feel part of nature. 1 This coupling of land form and building form was achieved intuitively in much of the vernacular building of Wales. Our approach to site (landscape) is relatively consistent regardless of location or size. We combine some native intuition with a lot of time and effort mapping, drawing, modelling, referencing and researching – not always knowing where this will lead or what will come of it. At Margam, the landscape is listed in Cadw/ICOMOS’s Register of Landscapes


Above: One of three framing devices at Margam Eco Discovery Centre: The rational artifice of the floating grid and rigorously framed views sets against differing horizons and landscapes, intensifies the beauty and appreciation of the undulating land and its ecology. The land flows through and around the architecture. Photo Kiran Ridley Above top right: North-lit workshops studios; the section and volume driven by visual delight discovered through drawing but checked through modelling and critical numerical rules of thumb. Above bottom right: fingers of accommodation slide out into the land; nature comes close. Photo David Leatherbarrow

of Historic Interest in Wales . Places need to be altered to sustain them and Margam’s landscape had been ‘managed’ for over 3,000 years. In Topographical Stories David Leatherbarrow refers to the possibility of the building as an elaboration of the terrain and which “is not substantial in its own terms, nor self sufficient, but dependent, or adjective to its milieu”. 2 We pursue an adjectival architecture, where an analysis of site may ‘structure’ the project. Under this dispensation, site – or more broadly ambient landscape – is not what surrounds and supplements the building, but what enters into, continues through, emanates from and enlivens it. 3 That is about as close as I can explain to what we tried to do at Margam – frame, hold, ensure spatial continuity, nestle, sense climate, feel nature ... In the tense days of trying to win over the conservationists a Robert Smithson quote – “the gardens of history are being replaced by the sites of time” 4 became important along with the image of his Partially buried Woodshed. When there is no Eco left to discover the site will become something else. From form to place In a project review with another mentor, Dean

Hawkes, he suggested we were erring toward formalism. It is true that we have become increasingly interested and committed to disciplines in form and composition. There is a certain ‘ocd’ with measure and composition. This emanates initially from the preliminary studies of site – as reference is also made to the work of artists and makers – Sean Scullly in the case of Margam as well as Robert Smithson. Elsewhere, other things like the ‘gravitations’ of Chillida, geometric nineteenth century Welsh quilts and Paul Klee’s compositions are referenced. These forms tend to be geometrically simple and at Margam the horizontal line and its position relative to a gently sloping ground line and horizon was considered critical.

Dimension is also factored for environmental comfort and constructional process – but we have no ‘golden means’ as in the work of say Van der Laan. A grid is often developed and respected and used to discipline plan, section

and construction. Things ‘must line up’ and we are interested in visual ‘balance’. A more critical ambition in all this, however, is the connection between

dimension, form and place. At Margam the idea started with three framing devices in echelon. A building with a 600 mm dimension was worked into a 4.8 m x 8.4 m module. This was used to order both building and landscape spatially and constructionally. In building terms we knew that the construction process, because of time and cost, would direct and not merely accommodate design strategies. Prefabricated systems were inevitable – not just a nod and a wink to MMC fashionistas. However, the dimensions both externally and

internally, are to do with rooms and place – both indoor and outdoor and in particular window positions related to view. We talked of waking up with a roe deer outside the room (even if it was modular).

The selective environment and low carbon In The Environmental Tradition Dean Hawkes traces the history of those architects for whom environmental delight is at the core of the architectural idea. Having trained at the Welsh School of Architecture in the Parry, Jones, Hawkes era, it is in our nature to consider the form of the climatically-responsive building envelope. We don’t use too many numbers or a computer model in this endeavour. Heuristics based on drawn studies and rules of thumb

Above left: the first view-framing device, the entrance pavilion with restaurant to the right and discovery centre to the left. Far left: Margam’s ground floor plan: the formalism of a rigorous grid is developed and respected and used to discipline plan, section and construction. Left: The Discovery Centre to the left of the main entrance. Above top right: Singlesided circulation like the WISE project at CAT ( see p.2) may not please the value engineers but it is climatically and experientally preferable. Photo Kiran Ridley Right: The cafeteria in the entrance pavilion. To lose control of detail and standards of excecution as almost inevitably happens in Design and Build contracts, is a source of acute frustration. Margam was D+B. Photo Patrick Hannay

s prevail – especially the sectional development - is the sky visible to the occupier, what is the

distance from the window wall? Further investigation is conducted with physical models in our artificial sky. Resulting building form tends to be narrow and spindly, single sided circulation spaces or in a most recent scheme ‘punctured’ plans prevail – all of which are hard to justify to cost consultants and happen before we get to the BREEAM shopping list. We wonder do we over-glaze about the potential of the shadow more than whether we can get a point for daylight. The building emission rate at Margam was predicted as 9.5kg/m2 per annum. We are in pursuit of environmental delight and user control. We have tried Passivhaus but remain cautious. At Margam we deliberately created a ‘promenade architecturale’ which was right at the boundary of outside and inside–where life is lived although we are for the hearth as well.


Patron/Client: Neath - Port Talbot County Borough Council: Paul Dorrell Us er Cli ent : Field Studies Council: Tim Orrell Architects: Design Research Unit Wales and Loyn & Co Architects Pr oje ct M an a ge r : EC Harris: Edward Guhry QS a nd CDM cons ul ta nt : EC Harris: Chris Byrne, Daniel Piff Se rv ice s & St r uc tu r al En gi neer s: Faber Maunsell: Sarah Gealy, Mark Gould G e n e ra l C o n t r a c t o r : WRW Construction: Mike Dunleavy


construction. This is as an area in which we continue to work with manufacturers and suppliers – big and small.

Detail and system – craft and the factory This is, perhaps, most difficult to reconcile. How to build? Michael Sorkin says “Joinery is always the moment of truth for architecture of gravity”. 5 We say chance would be a fine thing! We have had to create our own opportunities to craft (in a Richard Sennett sense) small buildings. Under the command and control systems of constructing excellence, procurement systems, partnering, certification and compliance, is there a chance for authenticity and tactility let alone substance? We have become more knowledgeable about building systems rather than detailing because we needed to be. 70% of Margam was pre-fabricated in a former aircraft hangar near Hull. We were able to insist on timber technologies but while our initial intention had been to employ locally-sourced material (within a 50 mile radius), only the hardwoods were sourced from British forests. Perhaps in the future re-engineered, renewable local materials will be incorporated into local/regional components and systems in resistance to the homogenising and flattening effect of globalised


Top left and below it: The double-height loggias that separate the different areas of the plan are bold well proportioned generous spaces. This one frames a view to the other Port Talbot landscape of the petro -chemical industry. Above right: The orthogonal grid weaves between existing magnificent trees and small water elements. Photo Kiran Ridley Above bottom left: Seventy percent of Margam was prefabricated in a former aircraft hangar near Hull. Above: The north-lit workshop/studios wing. Photo KR

On reflection These theses continue to form part of daily life in the studio – but most of the time we are just trying to get on with it. We have no manual for design but we have developed a way to practice. “Technical Rationality depends on agreement about ends. When ends are fixed and clear, then the decision to act can present itself as an instrumental problem. But when ends are confused and conflicting, there is no problem to solve. A conflict of ends cannot be resolved by the use of techniques derived from applied research. It is rather through the non-technical process of framing the problematic situation that we may organise and clarify both the ends to be achieved and the possible means of achieving them.” Donald Schön The Reflective Practioner 1983

References 1. Morris. J, ‘Wales: Epic views from a small country’ 2. Leatherbarrow. D, Topographical Stories p20 3. Ibid 4. Smithson Robert ‘A Sedimentation of the Mind – Earth Projects’ 1968 5. Sorkin, Michael ‘For an architecture of reality’ New York 1987

David Lea comments on Margam I have a beautiful little booklet, published by the local government of the Vorarlberg in western Austria, that illustrates a number of fine modern buildings in the area. They share a clarity and simplicity of spatial organisation, rectilinear geometry, simple construction and finely-crafted detail, particularly in timber. It is amazing to anyone living in the UK that these buildings are offered as a tourist attraction, a reason for spending time in the Vorarlberg. Far from trying to pretend that areas of outstanding beauty are somehow insulated from any life lived after about 1750, the Austrians, and the nearby Swiss, are actually proud of the buildings they build now! The work of DRU-w, headed by Wayne Forster, takes its stand, and many of its formal concerns, from our more confident friends in Europe and we can see that they could be the seed for a more regional, selfconfident way of building here, supported by the research at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff University. The Margam Centre shares some fundamental planning decisions with the WISE building: following Austro-Swiss precedent it is more ruthlessly purist in its geometrical form than the WISE building; the great double height loggias that separate the different areas of the plan are particularly bold, well-proportioned and generous spaces. Architects invariably lament that present procurement methods, in particular designbuild contracts, deprive them of power at just that point when it is essential to the excellence of the final outcome that they retain it. Margam is no exception; to lose control of detail and standards of execution is a source of acute frustration. There is no doubt that, if the aim is to achieve fine buildings, design-build is a lousy way to go about it. This has to be changed. When the contractor is in charge of the supply chain it is often difficult to insist on local production. When local demand trawls for the lowest price elsewhere, local production can never establish a resource base. We have a good potential supply of building materials in Wales, and with computer-generated cutting and production methods, there is no reason why this cannot be developed to serve local needs at a small scale, minimising environmental impact. This should be supported by the Welsh Government, without equivocation.

A Client of clients The architecture of homes in Wales has lost one of its major patrons. John Carter pays tribute to the legendary Phil Roberts.

“If only every client organisation could have someone like Phil Roberts !” This is the cri de coeur that will have been uttered in all architectural practices that have ever worked with Phil. It’s the same for the many offices that know of Phil’s reputation, but have never been lucky enough to work with him. So, why is he held in such high esteem by architects, especially those of us who ply our trade in Wales? As an architect, Phil’s vision and vocation was to bring radical change to people’s environment and quality of life. So he decided to become a client. As a client he was demanding; he wanted his consultants to break boundaries of impossibility and to challenge orthodox standards. Great motivation was communicated in a gentle and sensitive manner, respecting alternative views. In the view of many of us, Phil, or ‘the Dickon Robinson of Welsh housing’, as one highly-respected local academic and practit i o n e r






handedly been responsible for raising the proverbial quality bar in Welsh housing over the past two decades. His ‘crusades’, while in the employ of the Swansea-based Gwalia Group (housing association), ranged from organising design competitions that brought top-flight housing architects like PCKO into Wales, to raising the profile of sustainability issues in architecture before such issues became fashionable. Phil cogently argued against Tai Cymru’s standard pattern book house types. He recognised that this top-down, dictated approach to the production of houses and place-making was ruining the housing architecture of Wales. Rather than accept its lowest-common-denominator approach, he demonstrated, through Gwalia’s own projects, that good architects and a visionary client could do far better. Those of us who have known Phil are aware that his passion and depth of knowledge of his subject (he was amongst the first cohort to undertake a master’s degree in the Environmental Design of Buildings at the Welsh School of Architecture) as well as his entrepreneurial spirit, so often carried the day. Projects that were touch-and-go, for a whole variety of reasons, were made to happen; and there are many users of these often seminal projects that have a lot to thank Phil and his architect teams for: Swansea Foyer (bottom left); Plas-y-Mor, Burry Port (extra-care)(right); the Old Police Station development, Swansea (mixed-use residential and commercial, with a regeneration agenda); and, more recently, Cwm Aur, Llanybydder (extra-care)(top left), to name just a few.


Underpinning all of these projects was Phil’s commitment to rigorous research, especially in matters relating to sustainability. His close links with the Welsh School of Architecture and PCKO have given birth to research projects in modern methods of construction, which led to some radical innovations in student housing (Aberystwyth the first five-storey timber framed building in the UK - Swansea and Bangor); and to explorations of the low/zero-carbon house (long before the Welsh Government took up this particular baton) in for example, the ‘Gorseinon terrace’ and the ‘Cardiff combihouse’ (see Touchstone issue 13 November 2003 pp.16-17). Although these projects remain unbuilt, they are still, many years later, fertile ground for those of us who are pursuing similar passions. And underlying all of this significant output was Phil’s commitment, as client, to reward his architects properly for their endeavours. He negotiated fees, based on a requirement for his architects to take total ownership and responsibility of the projects in question - a just day’s pay for a hard and committed day’s work. Now you know why every client organisation should have someone like Phil Roberts ! Note: Phil Roberts is now Chief Executive of Warm Wales. John Carter (Pentan



The business of education Awards have been showered on recent additions to the higher education estate in Wales. Jonathan Adams weighs up the balance sheet.

To a Welsh freshman architecture student from UWIST the pastoral hedonism of Basil Spence’s Sussex University campus was like a model of paradise. My host, a close, indolent school friend had no idea how blessed he was. Returning to the grim gulag of UWIST’s Traherne Hall, more a part of the A48M than of Cyncoed, I couldn’t believe that the environments of two similar students could be so cruelly different. I took every opportunity to escape the austere, shrouded Cardiff of the early 1980s, accepting any half-intended invitation to visit friends studying elsewhere. UCL seemed to have no presence at all, just urban fragments, while the campus at Bath was a bizarre counterpoint to the city itself, a vast contiguous, concrete sculpture, like Cwmbran New Town but without shops. Despite its relentless brutalism and towering residential blocks disappearing into the fog, the Bath campus felt mellow and secure in its isolation. At Lancaster University endless empty corridors gave way, intermittently, to open courtyards, crammed with students and staff. The whole of the campus’s life seemed to happen out there, in the drizzle. Like my pale, shivering flatmates, I was entranced by Brideshead Revisited,


the zeitgeist TV of the day. A visit duly arranged to a rediscovered friend provided the first-hand experience, for just a few days, of what it felt like to be an Oxford undergraduate, with a bona fide “ground floor room on the front quad”. It was clear to me then, as it is to this day, that there is no man-made environment more sweetly tuned to the organised process of filling and expanding the mind than the one hitupon by the builders of the ancient universities. The scale and rhythm of solid and open volumes, the rich networks of movement, the varieties of internal and external space: nested layers of formality that make extraordinary informalities almost inevitable. What kind of environment most effectively nurtures fertile contemplation? How can architecture be a catalyst for the cross-fertilisation of ideas? These problems were solved centuries ago, and the answers still hold true. What grates is the thought that only the privileged few have access to these wonderfully rich environments: it may be widely accepted that the quality of teaching is what sets the ancient universities apart, but in reality it’s the built environment of Oxford and Cambridge that makes them what they are. Everything else follows from that. And that being the case, why has it been so difficult,

Facing page: Four new faces for the business of higher education Wales. Top left: Cardiff Metropolitan University’s (UWIC) School of Management by Austin-Smith: Lord . Photo Morley Von Sternberg. Top right: The new civic face of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD), Cardiff by BFLS. Photo Nick Gutteridge. Bottom left: The City Centre Campus, University of Wales Newport (UWN) by BDP, with its staff/researcher/direct orate zone prominently expressed. Photo Sanna Fisher-Payne. Bottom right: University of Glamorgan’s (UG) Atrium in Cardiff by Holder Mathias Architects.


Top right: Looking down on UWN’s firstfloor learning resources zone with the timber-clad staff area to the right. The spatial generosity is to everyone’s benefit. Photo Martine Hamilton Knight Bottom left: The ground floor gallery at UWN, showing off its wares to the street and all those coming every day to the ground floor lecture theatres. Photo Betina Skovbro. Bottom right: The university is now Newport’s most prominent institution, a positive beacon on the waterfront. UWN has plans for a phase 2 building beyond this site. Photo Martine Hamilton Knight

apparently, to make new universities with the same qualities? Commercial imperatives have transformed the culture of higher education over the last decade. Government policy has increased enrolment; per capita funding has gone the other way. Competition for good students, good staff and good money has driven the metamorphosis of institutions across Britain. Identities have changed, huge sums have been invested in estate consolidation and expansion. Competition between institutions is frenetic. In Wales it has become a competition for survival that has already seen the demise of the University of Wales itself. Today’s capital funding drought means that the projects recently completed in Newport and Cardiff may be among the last of their scale for a while; but perhaps not for long because for any university, a new show-piece building will always be the most effective profile-raising, and finance-raising, gambit. From the fifth-floor balcony of University of Wales Newport’s new flagship building your attention switches between the unpretentious sprawl of Liswerry, across the river Usk, to the boisterous interaction of young students on the deck of the cavernous foyer, three floors below. With its vast planes of glass, stacked

walkways, slabs of flat colour and super-graphics this is unmistakeably corporate architecture, of the post-Google genre. For UWN it is the first truly confident statement of its belief in its own stature as a university. Previously invisible in its own city, the university is now, suddenly, its most prominent institution, much to the satisfaction of the city itself. The project began well before the demand for the convergence of Welsh universities gathered momentum, but with this building UWN may have gone some way to securing its future independence. Building Design Partnership was the architect. It has been hugely successful at implementing this approach to higher education design over the length of the UK. It cites its ‘Saltire Centre’ at Glasgow Caledonian University as the paradigm, although it was opened in 2006, around 15 years after the concept of the ‘Learning Commons’ first surfaced in the USA, in response to the maturing of IT. The concept of the Saltire Centre and its forerunner, the smaller ‘Learning Café’, came from GCU’s ex-pro-vice-chancellor Les Watson, as a specific response to the expansion of IT in education: “We all assumed the importance of place would decrease in the face of the online revolution, but we were wrong.


University of Wales Newport (left) A very elegant 3D diagram. While distinguishing clearly the staff/admin/research timber-clad curvilinear element, from the orthogonal perimeter teaching/studio spaces, the cross section demonstrates how each weaves and wraps around each other, all focused on the learning resources and social spaces on level 1 that run virtually the full length of the plan. Informal meeting spaces cluster around the bridge link points between staff and students. The generous volume beneath the overarching, democratic roof coupled with the level 1 shared resource, suggests a positive collective learning environment and also allows the spectacular views to the river to be shared by all. The city is working hard to subvert the negative impact of the dual carriageway that separates it from the riverfront. UWN’s riverfront city-centre campus is part of that. Intelligently, the ground floor streetside exhibition spaces with their café, face the city. On entering you sense that you are part of the whole campus as open views stretch to the roof above.


1 Section A - A




Level 5: Boardroom,terrace and studios

Level 1 floor plan

5 3

Level 4: Teaching space, studios and staff

Level 1: Learning resources and social space


2 Level 0: Ground floor plan



6 Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (right) Another very elegant diagram, responding to building process, site context, functions and civic imperatives. Two new performance spaces are acoustically isolated from each other, but joined by a magnificent foyer/informal performance space and public café. The new development could be built separately, allowing the existing to continue functioning. No longer is the old building a barrier to the spectacular Bute Park. Its new timber-slat and stone elevations and the immediate entrance experience link the woods to the grandeur of the civic centre across the road. Again, what one can see on entering with views to the gallery slot between old and new, suggest a loosening of boundaries between ‘town and gown’. The new facilities enthusiastically welcome the ‘town’. Mediation with necessary radical student exploration and experimentation may take some adjustment. Currently the corporate holds sway.

response to the expansion of IT in education: “We all assumed the importance of place would decrease in the face of the online revolution, but we were wrong. Learning is a remarkably social process.” A report by the Joint Information Systems Committee, a body that funds and promotes the use of IT in education, observed that the Learning Café’s “…deliberate mix of refreshments, social activities and I.T. make it a relaxing and friendly place, where conversation and social interaction are seen as an essential part of learning.” From the London train the UWN building has the assertive poise of a blue-chip HQ, with recognisable echoes of the glossy business parks of Berkshire: it could be the new HQ of Newport City plc. BDP claims the “the City Centre Campus realises the University’s important role in the social and economic regeneration of the city and the region.” The economic imperative defines the architectural




Ground floor lecture theatres, refreshingly, have a river view. The penthouse boardroom with river balcony is clearly the economic magnet to the business community. As yet the general public can only access the ground floor, even though the openness and views up suggest they could use the library and upper level cafes as well.




LA Ground floor plan (existing building shaded grey)


manners. It says that learning and personal growth, for their own sake and for the good that might come from them, don’t matter as much as the money that we could make. It is a message with a very broad appeal these days. For UWN, as for a large number of other ‘new universities’, BDP has capitalized upon it brilliantly, perfectly crystallising the university’s ambition to assert its own commercial acumen, like a novice salesman buying a first decent suit. It is striking that UWN refers to its impressive new building as the ‘City Centre Campus’, when it is positively a single, freestanding and, for the time being at least, rather isolated building, clamped between river-bank and major road. A campus is an environment in which the open space is as important as the built form; and it is often in the open spaces that the most creative interactions occur. The informality of external space allows this to happen and, as in the ancient universities, the more

University of Glamorgan ‘Atrium’ (left) Like RWCMD, the assertive forms of the new-build are separated by a generous new foyer (atrium) from the more mute former telephone exchange, now converted into cellular teaching accommodation. Inevitably, the functions of television, theatre and recording required new more demanding fabric and forms. At ground level, a public café with display space right at the entrance separated by the full length atrium from a street-facing glazed front to the learning resource centre ( library), suggest a potentially vibrant loosening of boundary between ‘town and gown’ or is it more commerce and entrepeneurial gown. At level 4 the ‘zen suite’ bursts out of the skin, promoting its presence to the distant city. The atrium tends to divide rather than bind two worlds. Staff offices and common rooms are housed on the top floor. There is not the subtle spatial overlap of UWN (see page 12 left).


Cardiff Metropolitan University (UWIC): (right) While it doesn’t have the luxury of being a street-front promotional facility, the new School of Management building located at the back of the site, performs a vital social role for the Llandaf campus, namely to give it a social heart. Its prominent projecting corner entrance addresses the main square that binds the other campus building to it. Interestingly, an earlier scheme (shown in model second from top) has resonances with UWN (see p.12 left). The vibrant full height atrium that divides staff from teaching spaces has social cafe spaces at two levels but also teaching spaces face into the length of that shared space at first and second levels. With its popular ground floor hospitality suite for corporate events flowing out onto the staff/students café and social learning space, it has quickly become the social hub of the campus for both staff and students.

8 Level 4 floor plan

UW Newport 1 Public street-side café 2 Exhibition space 3 Technical studios 4 Board room (for hire) and terrace


University of Glamorgan 1 Street-front café 2 Theatre 3 Student advice shop 4 Learning resource centre 5 Television studio 6 Recording suites 7 Practise theatre 1 8 Zen/mixing suites 9 Practise theatre 2

Level 2 floor plan

RWCMD 1 The Dora Stoutzker Hall (chamber recital) 2 The Richard Burton Theatre 3 Existing multi-format performance space 4 Rehearsal studio 5 Student bar/café/social learning space 6 Props with rehearsal studios above






Level 0 Ground floor plan


tightly defined the outdoor space, the more effectively it performs as a social crucible. So why, when it is so robustly a single building, does UWN call it a ‘campus’? Is it any less cynical than the retail developer who calls his soulless shopping mall a ‘village’? Perhaps it is: new university buildings like UWN’s - and like the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s new complex or UWIC’s School of Management - provide semi-defined space that aims to foster the unplanned interactions that, before the last decade, could only take place in accidental, often external, campus spaces. ‘Social Learning Space’ as it is known in the UK, attempts to formalise the kind of undefined space that we now understand to have been the most fertile ground for learning and growth in the past. It is no longer sufficient to allow happy accidents to occur spontaneously – by accident. New university buildings are designed to show that they can be made to occur,

Cardiff Metropolitan UWIC 1 Hospitality suite 2 Training kitchen 3 Mentoring suite

Level 1 First floor plan 2


3 Level 0 Ground floor plan


deliberately. University of Glamorgan’s School of Creative and Cultural Industries, heavily branded as ‘Atrium’, was the first building of this type in Wales. Opened for the 2007 intake, it is the equal of any in the UK for its expression of corporate aesthetics. Unrecognisable as a university, its assertive angles and towering planes of glass are drawn directly from the refined commercial vocabulary of its designer, Cardiff-based Holder Mathias Architects. It’s surprising that so few other universities have applied the same lateral thinking as UoG and appointed a commercial specialist to design their new flagships. The ‘Atrium’ itself perhaps provides the answer to this question. Like all corporate HQs the confident exterior cloaks a pragmatic interior; the central volume from which it takes its name leads nowhere. For its students it is undoubtedly a challenging and uplifting



ronment, one that demands a mature attitude and an aspirational agenda; values that would benefit any undergraduate - while perhaps not being enough in themselves. The playfulness of the UWN ‘City Centre Campus’ is absent from the ‘Atrium’. The colours, textures and fluid forms that soften the corporate lines of the Newport building are evidence of a more subtle approach, one in which the richness and diversity of social interaction – the heartbeat of the university – is understood and cherished. Architects who specialise in public-sector work may still be best placed to optimise such opportunities. Less is lost when a public building specialist adopts corporate language than when a commercial designer irons the creases out of a civic environment. University of Glamorgan is the major beneficiary again of the completion of


Far left: Striking spiral in the University of Glamorgan’s ‘Atrium’. Top left: Street front corporate reception/cafe or student social learning zone; boundaries become deliberately blurred at UG. Photo Patrick Olney at Short and Tall. Top right: Light show in the ‘Atrium’ on the official opening night, but like many business building atria, the function is to impress the corporate visitor rather than facilitate a sense of shared collaborative endeavour. Bottom left: Bold furniture decisions punctuate and puncture the commercial seriousness. Bottom right: Muscular angles and towering planes of glass are part of a recognisable refined business vocabulary.

the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s new North Road complex, the work of Paddington-based architects BFLS, a practice with substantial roots in Foster + Partners. The previous and current principals of the college share the credit for bringing the project to fruition, but in some ways its genesis not only predates the merger of RWCMD with UoG, it predates the university itself, as the original College, designed by the then Cardiff City Architect, was always intended as the first of a multi-phase development which, at one stage, even included a National Theatre of Wales, set deep into Bute Park. Even in the last decade there was an unsuccessful proposal from John McAslan that extended into the park; larger, but also cruder than the scheme now delivered (see Touchstone 11, Autumn 2002, pp25-27).

Left: Cardiff’s citizens and the RWCMD have gained a fabulous civic facility and acoustically outstanding chamber music concert venue, the Dora Stoutzker Hall. The senior partner who led this job for BFLS also earlier in his career did The Sage Gateshead with Foster + Partners. The material restraint is consistent. Photo Nick Gutteridge Below left: Civic Portland stone and the wood of the park sweep you into the new entrance to the new theatre and concert hall beyond. Photo NG Below right: The drama of the foyer revealed. The colours of Bute Park seem intensely saturated, forcing the visitors’ attention out of the building and into the landscape. Photo Betina Skovbro. Below bottom right: City to the right, park to the left; mediating the usage of this grand foyer space between performance students and corporate and civic revenue raising functions, will be a testing balancing act. The architecture would appear to lean towards the latter. Photo Nick Gutteridge

The fleeting, acute-angle view of the new building along North Road is a great success, an elegant assemblage of curved volumes, screening the awkward slabs of the old college. Its organisation is just as impressively articulate, and its core facilities, the two compact performance spaces, while slightly anodyne are well judged and consummately realised. The influence of Foster although obvious is, thankfully, moderated. The two halls, one a theatre and the other a concert space, are separated by the main entrance foyer, and it is this ambiguous space that leaves the most lasting impression. The outer walls of the two performance spaces bulge in at each side, the timber cage of the concert hall providing the only relief from the flat monochromes of every other surface, every piece of furniture, and even the


uniforms of the café staff. Beyond the glass wall at the rear, the colours of Bute Park seem intensely saturated, forcing the visitors’ attention out of the building and into the landscape, which has never looked more inviting. The old Dock Feeder, a small canal, passes just beyond the glass wall making access from the foyer into the park, paradoxically, impossible. This contributes to the sense that the foyer is not really space for movement and interaction, or even the front-of-house to a theatre, but a showpiece ante-room that functions primarily as a corporate lobby, like the entrance to a commercial office or a convention hotel: in a language most clearly understood by the moneyed, it says “we’re open for business.” As if to reinforce this fact, there is a remarkable threshold at the back of the café



Below left: RWCMD: One of four new rehearsal studios, two facing the city, two facing the park. In evenings this may provide drama to the great North Road commuters. Photo Joe Clarke Bottom left: Performance in the park – well not quite; the Dock Feeder defines the building edge, but it also offers a fine external terrace space to the ground floor café. Photo JC

café that separates the public from the non-public territory, and which links the new foyer directly into a student bar with all the mutable, homely and soft-edged qualities of a real university social space. It is a striking feature of the project that there is almost no transition between the old and new buildings, that in true theatrical fashion, the cool corporate mask projects a slick commercial image, while concealing the more complex and more human personality within. UWIC is alone among the capital’s universities in having a real city-centre campus, at Howard Gardens, an asset of huge value in any future merger deal. The city has too few institutions in its centre, and it would be tragic to see this one sold off to a house-builder. However, the development of the School of Management is a strong sign that it now sees the peripheral campus at Llandaf as the key to its future.


The School of Management building is the work of Austin-Smith:Lord’s Cardiff office. Located in a back corner of the campus, it lacks the street-front presence of the other buildings discussed here, and is more modest in ambition. It has more manageable goals, and achieves them effortlessly. It comprises two linear blocks separated by the inevitable full-height atrium. A handsome timber staircase ascends through the central void, and provides the lone point of visual interest. At ground level the central thoroughfare is traversed by social space, including a crowded café. It functions as a centre of gravity for a large campus community, which provides a vigorous churn of activity that would be the envy of the other new buildings, regardless of the sometimes excessive noise. The logos of various corporate sponsors jump out from a relentless white background, but in most other respects it is indistinguishable from a modern office

(Facing page) Right: School of Management (UWIC) Llandaf campus. A handsome timber staircase ascends through the inevitable atrium. Photo Morley Von Sternberg Left: Prominently signalling the evangelical mission at Llandaf. Photo MVS Below: Sponsors logos; an ethos of business and academe. Photo MVS Below right: A new centre of gravity for the Llandaf campus; a vigorous churn of social activity at the ground and first level social learning spaces. Photo Momentum.

building, perhaps one of the ‘Techniums’ recently divested by the Welsh Government. In the context of UWIC’s low-key Llandaf campus, it’s an audacious leap into the future. According to UWIC “The building was designed to have the feel of an academically oriented corporate HQ, rather than a traditional place of learning. This is enhanced by strong connections with businesses ... who sponsor spaces within it, with the intention of fostering links.” The architect’s claim that its “… ethos is a mix of business and academe. This is a supremely confident building which speaks of modernity and progress.” It is an almost evangelical vision in which commercial prerogatives re-define learning and subsume it. In its first year of use, according to UWIC, the new building attracted nearly £20 million of new revenue, virtually paying for itself at a stroke. This is the kind of claim usually heard from the builders of drilling rigs, emphasising the

s simple commercial logic that justifies not only its creation but also its ongoing mission. The figures are impressive, and the building is impressive, but to where does this ethos – the ‘mix of business and academe’ - ultimately lead? Before the last decade, any university investing in a capital project of this kind would do so with the aim of raising standards of academic excellence, perhaps moving the institution up the ubiquitous league tables. Today, though, it seems as if the goal is merely to create a sustainable niche within the commercial fabric of the city, like any archaic enterprise struggling to adapt and running just to stay still. The commercialisation of American universities is frequently offered as a justifiable precedent for the changes that have swept higher education in the UK. British policy-makers wrongly presume that American higher education has



Below: A sense of generous welcome to all, both business and students, at Newport’s City Centre Campus, but are UK Universities dangerously overselling their income regenerative capacities? Photo Martine Hamilton Knight. Bottom left and right: Staff environments at UWN and UWIC. At UWN (left) there is a very determined, seemingly collaborative and democratic, policy that all academic, technical and research staff should share the same open spaces as the management, although like office architectural politics of an earlier era openness could be to the management’s advantage. Photo Patrick Hannay. At UWIC (right) a compromise has been struck that probably suits neither management nor workers. There is more enclosure but it is not acoustically sealed at the top. Photo Morley Von Sternberg.

Heading for the Valleys

always been in thrall to commerce, but they are perhaps only a decade or two ahead of us: far enough to have reached the point where major misgivings have emerged. Harvard’s Professor Derek Bok is one of many influential commentators to have raised

These are mistakes that many new universities are in great danger of making. It would seem to require an act of huge courage and enlightened leadership, in the best tradition of higher education, for someone to move away from the “ethos of business and academe”, and to create

concern. In his 2005 book Universities in the Marketplace he said “I worry that commercialism may be changing the nature of academic institutions in ways that we will come to regret. By trying so hard to acquire more money … universities may compromise values that are essential to the continued confidence of the faculty, students and even the general public.” Jennifer Washburn goes further again in her book University, Inc. also published in 2005: “ The more universities try to sell politicians on the idea that they can drive local and regional economic growth – justifying their existence in market terms – the more they set themselves up for failure and undermine the basis for their public support.”

a new learning environment with personal and communal growth as its sole agenda. If the precedent of our ancient universities holds true, an institution bold enough to eschew the commercial agenda may find itself more successful, and more commercially viable, as a result.



There’s been a long tradition within the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA). ‘Getting-on’ meant ‘getting- out’ – of Wales that is - once you’ve finished. The School’s aspiration was global. This was a tragedy for architecture in Wales and those local practices wanting to up their game. The brain drain has been a long running sore. The School, the only one in Wales, is still at the top end of the UK’s architecture school league tables. It’s all As and A*s to get a place. This ‘getting out’ was reinforced by the vast majority of final design projects being located anywhere but in Wales. But the mood music is changing. The Design Research Unit Wales (DRU-w) led by Wayne Forster has been heavily embedded for some years now in sustainable material and building research and design within Wales (see pp.6-8). This year, for the first time, all MArch 2 units in the school are focusing on the ‘heads of the valleys’. Students have also been on study visits to the Ruhr, Pittsburgh, and Chicago looking at post-industrial environments. “So how many of you are from the valleys” barked the cultural historian and Chair of the Arts Council of Wales, Dai Smith, at the project briefing symposium? Not a hand went up. “OK, so how many from Wales itself”. One or two hands went up. So the challenge is clearly ten times tougher. The enormous appeal of the four-year (in-school) as opposed to fiveyear course elsewhere in the UK, its cracking educational reputation, the fact that so few students are Welsh domiciled, all this compounds to make this a ‘valley’ mountain to climb. So it isn’t surprising that other higher education institutions in Wales should seek to mop up what surely must be a huge latent market, those Welshdomiciled students wanting to study architecture. Given the £9,000 annual tuition fee, surely there were bound to be many who would want to live and study locally. UWIC, now rebranded as Cardiff Metropolitan University, laid plans for a new architecture course that would absorb and build on the long-standing reputation of its Arts School Interior Architecture BA Hons course. The Architects Registration Board had already given that programme its informal blessing. Funds were put aside during 2010 by the University. Conversations with the RIBA had begun. In November 2010, everything ceased. The university funds were withdrawn. The Art School was required to lose 15 academic staff out of 60, as well as many technical and administrative staff. There was no press release or staff memorandum to explain the policy shift on architecture. The Interior Architecture intake was suspended in January 2011, and the teaching team largely disbanded by July. Another architectural door closes in the faces of welsh domiciled students. So all eyes will be on how the WSA MArch students react to the harsh realities and staggering beauties of the valleys. TS will be publishing the best. Let’s hope the best remain.

Touchstones... We know you all want a Kindle for Christmas while you mourn the closing of public libraries and speculate what a high street without Waterstone’s would be like. But then you know this is all silly. The miners knew it when they raised their magnificent working men’s institutes. They would smile if they could see us now, as one IT guru after another has to admit that all the gizmos in the world will never defeat our desire to gather. So Cardiff’s magnificent new Central Library by BDP with contractor’s architect Stride Treglown Davies, on the edge of the city’s café quarter, filling the prominent vista down The Hayes, is a place where we all want to be (see far top right and below it). At a much smaller scale, but potentially filling

exactly the same remit, is the new public library and ‘one-stop-shop’ by the Pentan Partnership, just opened at Bargoed.(see right and below) Converted from a baptist chapel, with the congregation still provided with a worshipping space, its new back is a new front, proudly facing out to the valley bottom below, proclaiming regenerative hope for the community it serves. But let us not kid ourselves; the forces that made the Kindle possible were not born out of places like Bargoed. As huge resources are poured into road and rail infrastructure and public domain improvements to so many of these valley towns, what is really happening to their economies? TS will return to Bargoed in the next issue.

David Barbour

Book ends


A bridge too poor Bridges were once marvels, sites of awe, of mass tourism, the modern cathedrals of engineering prowess. They bestride Wales with conviction and distinctness. The very early industrial revolution in south Wales gave Pontypridd the largest single span masonry arched bridge in Europe of its time. Thomas Telford slung his masterpiece across the Menai Strait and at Conwy. The Severn Bridge by Mott, Hay and Anderson with Freeman Fox and Partners

created one of the most elegantly proportioned (though wobbly) suspension bridges of all time. Wilkinson Eyre celebrated a sense of place at Swansea and Grimshaw Architects made the Usk at Newport live up to its ‘Transporter Bridge’ tradition. Coming up to the present day, Studio Bednarski with Flint & Neill have engineered with aplomb down at Roath Basin in Cardiff Docks (see below) and the Arup’s Chartist Bridge at Blackwood, as Owen Hatherley described it, is “a sweeping cable-stayed bridge, simple and dramatic enough to shame all our Calatrava

imitations.” So what is happening on Wales’s great north road, the A470(T), and its realignment between Builth Wells and Rhayader (see below) or, for that matter, the new road sweeping up into the centre of Bargoed in the Valleys? Beyond Builth near Newbridge, Atkins and Jacobs have clearly decided that the lowest common denominator will do. (see below). At Bargoed, Capita Symonds has clearly been in the same bed of mindless post-and-beam clumsiness as Atkins (see bottom). Now what’s the correlation, I wonder?



Grandstanding design TV and architecture can make uneasy bedfellows. Do they really improve the public’s understanding? Tim Graham reports on two recent episodes.

TV architecture came in force to west Wales this autumn. So how did we fare? Grand Designs – the programme that never seems to be off our screens – came to launch its seventh series in Tenby. It was a promising start. There was a charming and urbane Irish family, the O’Donovans – somehow those lyrical voices always beguile – and, of course, an eccentric project: to convert a redundant lifeboat station to their second home.? You know you are in Grand Designs when the client admits with an unabashed smile that he’s going to possibly spend a ‘terrible amount of money’ because that will avoid him having to purchase a boat mooring in the harbour. We’re hooked. As we sit in the recessionary gloom we ponder: just how did he come to have this unbelievable shed-load of cash? Well, dream-on kid: dreams are helpful in recession-reality avoidance. Not to be outdone, BBC1 sought to upstage the ubiquitous McCloud, launching a second series of twenty programmes in four weeks, one every weekday at 11:00 am – blanket coverage just ahead of the re-start of Grand Designs. But aren’t we already saturated? Entitled To Build or not to Build the format appeared different. It’s from True North Productions based in Leeds for a start – not London. Ex-Liverpool Brookside heartthrob Simon O’Brien exuded a more populist Big Brother sort of down-to-earth delivery. In each programme Simon went off to the Leeds College of Building to demonstrate inversely,


Far left and inset: Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud and the O’Donovans at their new home in the remodelled former Tenby Life-boat station. Near left: Somewhere in the region of 100 volunteers have participated in the selfbuild of Michael Howlett’s hay bale semi-d in Pembroke Dock Below: TrueNorth TV’s ‘To build or not to build’ at the March 2011 toppingout at Pembroke Dock. The Building Process Foundations: A curious sight in a traditional Pembroke Dock street: 130 recycled tyres stacked in threes, filled with hand-hammered small stones to be followed by a PVC weed barrier and tonnes of sub-base.

by his incompetence in their workshops, that building crafts requires real expertise, precision and practise, just as designing architecture does. But more of that later. Early on in the series came ex-UWIC Interior Architecture student, Michael Howlett, self-building in the streets of Pembroke Dock a two-storey, load-bearing, hay-bale, highly ecological, semi detached

house. There were no ‘hobbit’ windows or Steiner-esque strangenesses in sight. Just a normal looking semi-d. No more squillions of pounds and bottomless budgets. No more over-bloated corporate atriums and fivebedroom barns with en suite power-showers for down-sizing couples from the ‘smoke’. Or at least, that’s how it seemed for the first part of the programme.

Suspended ground floor resting on the reclaimed concree block caps to the recycled tyre foundation; floor constructed from engineered joists fixed to a laminated timber ring beam; insulation is laid on an 11 mm sterling board base; floor is glued 22 mm T&G chipboard. First floor temporary supports are fixed to the outside of the ground floor and first floor ring beams so as not to interfere with the building of the straw walls that will eventually support it. Similar floor construction to ground floor. Hand lifting 12.2 m long 243 x 75 mm laminated timber ring beams is not

recommended! Acro-props were put in before stripping the temporary timber props away to control the lowering of the floor onto the bales. The arrival of 700 barley straw bales for the ground floor walls. Hay bale assembly: Twin 100 x 50 mm sole plates are laid on the floor edge and insulated. Holes in noggins are drilled to receive hazel/ash stubs to spike the bottom course of bales onto. Bales are secured by driving 1300 mm long ash poles through layers of bales. Attic truss roof built in two halves on top of the first floor deck. Each half felted and battened (leaving the middle unfinished) is then craned up into position on temporary and braced supports similar to the ground floor construction. Roof is to have a sedum finish yet to be installed. Clay came from the neighbour’s garden. On

Financial data materials


(to round figures and covers both houses): Foundations £1,000 (includes: recycled tyres (no cost); stone fill to tyres £500; plate load testing of tyre piers £260, plus terram, land drains, insect and vermin mesh); Security fencing and scaffolding £3,000; Engineered timber floors £3,300; Sterling board base to ground floor, base to wall plates and sarking board to roof £1,000; Chipboard ground floor, first floor and attic floor £800; Insulation to ground, intermediate floor and attic floor £550; Service connections £5000; Straw bales £2800; 200 x 50 mm fixing frames for doors/windows £300; 100 x 50 mm timber sole and wall plates, fixing posts for door/windows and temporary compound beam for craning roof £750; External doors, windows and roof-lights £6,000; Roof trusses £3,000; Lime Render (incomplete)£2,400 Other costs: Plot cost £40,000: Planning and Building Regulations fees £1,600; Build cost to October 2011: £53,000 (excluding VAT). Final cost aimed to be £60,000 (excluding VAT) ie £30,000 per house or just under £300 per sqm


Howlett paid £3,252.93 for the walling material for the two houses. The clay for the render came from next door’s garden. The whole two semi-ds he estimates will cost him £90,000 to build – this was less than the cost of the glazing alone for a Hampshire pad posing as a series of farm buildings, shown later in the same programme! (Hopes of a seismic difference were dashed at that point.) In the dire economy of Pembroke Dock and much of south west Wales this was possibly a message of real hope. This was public-service TV, not a surrogate property agency for the well-oiled ‘haves’ in order for them to have even more. This could be a really affordable home at £45,000 a throw, with £20,000 for the land beneath it. Howlett’s project clearly had other values - an air of collectivity, neighbourliness, civic pride ( the Mayor came to the topping out ceremony – pulling off the blue tarpaulins.) These values shone through the screen. Was it entirely fanciful to think that it might be better for so many on the unemployment register, stuck in their parents’ overcrowded homes, offered mindless drudgery for a minimum wage, to come and build hay-bale affordable

homes for themselves on awkward left-over sites in town? This was full-on self-build; but therein lies a problem. It’s one of terminology. These TV programmes are peppered with the term ‘self-build’ which in the days of the late Walter Segal meant what it said on the tin: doing it yourself (with friends maybe). But now it simply means self-financing an often ostentatious new-build house for yourself to avoid engaging with Redrow, Barratt or Taylor Wimpey. Self-build has morphed into selfserving excess. Much the same can be said for Grand Designs. They are certainly ‘grand’ in the sense of too often being paragons of excessive consumption, but as a public service to improve architectural understanding, to raise an appreciation of an architect’s skill, more often that is utterly invisible. The explanation from Talkback Thames, which produces Grand Designs, is that it only follows a story once planning permission has been obtained. Often by then” they say “the overall design of the house has already been decided and many of the major architectural conversations have taken place … First and foremost, Grand Designs is about the story of a family who’ve decided to embark on a self-build project.” There we go again – that abuse of terminology.

finding a spring, hand digging had to be replaced by a JCB. Three coat clay plaster (internal finish). First pure clay slip worked into straw to give a good key. Second a body coat (1 part clay, 1.5 parts sand and 1 part chopped straw) to give shape and level up walls (25 to –50 mm thick). Finally top coat (as ndow openings avoid vulnerability of lime if brought to a corner.

Key helpers: Graham and Wendy George (next-door neighbours); Karen Burton (neighbour); Matt Dash, Laura Birchenough, Graham Naiken, Adam Butland (long-term volunteers) Bee Rowan (formerly of Amizonails) ran all the straw-bale, clay and lime workshops for volunteers and invaluable technical support. Cost of workshops for volunteers on straw bale building, clay and lime usage £5,300; Principal self-builder/client: Michael Howlett For further information contact: and or contact Michael Howlett 07826 705493.

Job lot of recycled overalls for sound insulation to internal walls: overalls are held in place by stretched and bound baler twine to avoid buckling the plasterboard.



At Tenby the O’Donovans were not average. In-house, so to speak, their extended family has skills in engineering, construction, property development and building and

material procurement but, that said, Terence and Philomena O’ Donovan would be the first to acknowledge what a transformation in thinking was brought to the project by Michael Argent Architects of Tenby. Yes, the amount and complexity of the rebuild and remodelling task was intriguing as the programme showed but, just as vital for public information, is to understand the skill of how to balance properly the old with the new and how attention to every detail is paramount. This necessary dialogue comes from conversations with good architects .

Michael Argent was interviewed three times by McCloud. For a tiny practice to receive prime-time coverage on such a prominent project in the locality was, it seemed, an opportunity at last for some public recognition of what a small, very experienced, good architectural practice can offer. But the actual outcome was zero: not a single mention of the


Left: The Tenby sea through new floor porthole Far left top: Exposed location; the harbour at Tenby Far left below: Michael Argent on left but not in programme Below: Handsome new structure on old grid. Right: Sea elevation before and after; maybe better to have left the big doors and pull the inner sliding glazed leaf inside?

architect on the programme. That will occur much later, says Talkback, in its magazine and website. For Grand Designs is a veritable industry. In the media it is ‘top dog’ for the built environment. McCloud hosts the Stirling Prize, he is the person to get on board for any project promotion. There are trade shows, magazines, websites. It’s an empire. While he does promote the use of architects, as he did recently on the remodelling of a Cornish tin mine wheel house by a real self-builder who should have hired a good architect, one gets the sense that McCloud’s real heart is elsewhere in Rudovsky’s world of ‘architecture without architects’. On the second programme visit to the ‘manifesto’ house of architects Wigglesworth and Till, McCloud slipped in a short visit to his own truly self-built, hay-bale, and turf-roofed home-office as if to say: ‘look you don’t need them’. In a Guardian interview in April this year, McCloud revealed that his personal favourite was built by a Sussex woodman Ben Law for £28,000 and built with, yes you guessed it, trees from the surrounding woods, hay bales and lime plaster. The rest of the extensive interview was concerned with McCloud riding the political fault line of Grand Designs. His search for social value, not profit, often acts as a noble but invaluable smoke screen to the undeniable political and financial inequities of the Britain of Blair and Cameron. Many architects will acknowledge that McCloud has raised the expectations and imaginations of those house patrons and the new landed gentry with well-lined pockets from the excessive house price speculation of the last twenty years. But, curiously, there is now almost another international-style modernism of the home, as mind numbing and grossly insensitive as corporate-statusboasting office architecture became in the 1960s. Yes, the product availability in B&Q has improved immeasurably. Britain begins to catch up with the Italians and the Scandinavians. But in this Michael Goveinfected environment where the philistines are returning Britain to the discredited days of system-built schools by huge conglomerates,

and Gove’s notion that architecture provides little but silver lining to architects’ pockets , the excesses of Grand Designs with its equal levels of architectural invisibility are at one level profoundly troubling but, at another, perhaps a fortunate oversight. Do architects really want to be associated so publicly with such frequent profligacy? The blunter Simon O’ Brien was more upfront. Each True North programme ends with him telling the couple at what the market now valued their home. Just as in Antiques Roadshow, concealing the kerching of the cash registers in their eyes was not easy.

As Philip Johnson notoriously remarked of architects, potentially, ‘we are all whores’; we are subject to our patrons’ pockets unless architects become their own financiers and property developers. But this apolitical position suggests we are simply craven creatures of forces outside our control. McCloud, bless him, is living out where his political instincts lie. His influence needs putting to more valuable social use. So with his own development company, HAB Oakus, and with Glenn Howells Architects he is determined to show the British house-building industry that more generous, more ecological, more affordable homes can be built if you apply the right social values and a very good architect. The first project to be completed is in Swindon. You may have seen some of his trials and tribulations on telly by the time you read this. He may have learnt a few painful lessons, but at least it’s a worthwhile grand design. Above: entrance view from the land; seemingly nothing has changed Below: before and after interiors of the boat station. Right: The HAB Oakus scheme at Swindon by Glen Howells Architects with Kevin McCloud of ‘Grand Designs’ as client.


Touchstones... ‘Frockrabric’

Client: Tom and Philomena O’ Donovan Architect: Argent Architects Structural Engineer: Michael Armstrong Structural Steel Detailer: Kevin Davies, Welsh Structural Designs Planning Consultants: Keith Tancock, G Powys Jones Project Manager: Kevin Culhane Main Contractor: Horan Construction Steel Fabrication & Installation: Brian Barratt, Technical & Marine External Joinery: Philip Troakes Joinery Internal Joinery: Keating Joinery Heating & Plumbing: GRC Plumbing & Heating Electrical Desgn & Installation: Winters Electrical Services Kitchen Units & Appliances Supply & Installation: Lawrence Lyons Exclusive Kitchens Curved Roofli ght & Balcony Glazing: Natralight Gallery Gl azing: Solaglas Interior Design & Furniture Supply: Chameleon Interiors

Many will have been curious for years, nay mystified. The Professor of Architecture in Cardiff who has given us seminal tomes on Utzon, Aalto, Modernism, Materials Form and Architecture, and most recently the ‘100 Ideas that changed Architecture’ has been seen in a full-page colour supplement fashion section wrapped in a silk scarf. Then Professor Richard Weston popped up as the clear star of BBC2 ‘Britains Next Big thing’ (how did it take them so long to find that out?) as he became Liberty’s flavour of the month, with sales of the scarves printed with high resolution images from rocks. For three years since his publication of ‘Formations. Images from Rocks’, Weston has made this very much his current trademark and his passionate research. Of course anyone could scan sections through the earth’s precious stones, but like in the best of architecture, the distinguishing mark of real quality is visual judgement. He has clearly upset expectations. How does the hardness of the earth, the materials that made the timelessness of architecture connect to the softness of something as transitory and fashionable as silk scarves. This is almost like an architect going soft, and succumbing to the world of ‘makeover’. Some may mock, but it is not for nothing that the seminal influence on Weston’s education was his time with the US landscape philosopher architect Ian McHarg. Students of Weston’s unit in the Welsh school of Architecture will have experienced his profound sensibility to the land and nature’s forms and geographies, and how man’s philosophical position in that landscape has to inform any intelligent architecture. With a house project in London with Patel Taylor (both of whom teach at WSA) Weston has shifted the silk into glass and moved the experience of privacy and light into a whole other dimension. The image (see above) was, as Weston explains, ”scanned from a level-bedded Oregon ‘thunderegg’ enlarged approximately 125 times, digitally printed on silk habotai, and finally laminated between two layers of 6mm toughened glass”. The laminating films are, Weston claims, UV proof, transforming the printed silk into a durable material – something which defeated Enric Miralles at the Scottish Parliament, when he laminated timber veneer into glass to equally stunning effects. While one understands the potential intense pleasure of spending one’s days in dense London streets experiencing it from inside your home as though on a mountain summit with only a horizon of limitless dawn sky, a slither of reality through a clear slit might have heightened that p i q u a n c y of pondering one’s place in the universe.



Picking up momentum At last there is a growing recognition that furniture is not simply there to take up the slack of the budget overrun, but is central to decent architecture. Tom Leitener reports on a major player in making this shift.

This issue of Touchstone confirms that Wales has come a long way architecturally in ten years. Patronage has found its feet. But look carefully at the photographs. A decade ago, even when a project stood out, the pictures had to be taken before the furniture arrived. Public architecture would try to shine but then only be ruined by cartel arrangements with mass furniture suppliers, or simply ignorance. New structures would create such openness, but nobody could occupy it with a similar confidence. The architecture of the shell and servicing would gobble up the budget. Like the landscape, the furniture and fittings could be downsized to avoid the budget overrun. What a sadness, when actually it is the furniture that we spend so much of our time in direct bodily contact with. It is the furniture that fills our view, or as it did more often stood out like a sore thumb. The justification for this low aspiration was always about solid functionality and durability, reliability of supply, mass orders supposedly ensuring a good price. Those arguments then assumed that elegance and lightness equalled fragile, uncomfortable and unworkable, and further that distinctiveness would break the budget and be irreplaceable. In fact it was laziness allied to a lack of confidence and ignorance. Technology has moved on. None of this needs hold true anymore. There has been a veritable explosion of furniture and lighting design in the last decade, but how to chose the sound product from the charlatan. Practising architecture became ever more complicated as well. In the worst cases, architectural arrogance just assumed it could do interiors as well as the architecture. After all everyone could spend a fortune in IKEA! For most architects, however, more and more time was lost in the structure, the services, the rain screen development, the BREEAM, the carbon offsets and ‘universal’ design. Where would they find time to survey and select furniture with confidence, negotiate the best price, build up the contacts? Enter Momentum of Charles Street, Cardiff. Three

floors of furniture and lighting display, a full product library backed up with knowledgeable staff. They do supply direct to clients, and work with interior designers, and furniture specifiers, but their biggest success has been in their partnership with architects. They have just celebrated their tenth birthday in style. In this issue of TS alone you will find their furniture in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, University of Wales Newport, the Centre for Alternative Technology, UWIC’s School of Management building, and Glamorgan’s Atrium. I keep pressing its founder P J Statham. What were the breakthroughs? They keep denying they exist. But architects of Holder Mathias Architects (HMA), and exarchitects who became project managers, seem to weave through different chapters. Peter Mathias’s patronage has always been a seedcorn. They fitted out HMA’s top floor. That was the start of a long, hard but always invigorating journey. They fitted out just recently the office of Stride Treglown Davies in Cardiff. They have supplied projects in Switzerland, Egypt and Australia. You may not have known it was Momentum in Chapter Arts Centre, in the Senedd, the Oriel restaurant in the basement of the National Museum, the National Library in Aberystwyth, Cardiff’s Park Plaza’s Kuku club, Torch Theatre Milford Haven, Cardiff University’s Trevithick Library, the Millennium Stadium, Tata Steel HQ in Shotton… the list can go on and on. Of course, like architectural practise, the projects that demand all the time and don’t make money can be balanced by the odd luxury. So Momentum has been kitting out hotels in Mustique and Cornwall. If you ever needed convincing how critical furniture selection is, just visit the new WISE building at the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth (see pp.2-5). Huge care has been taken by Pat Borer and David Lea on the colour palette and finish to their purposedesigned fitted furniture. This has been beautifully Left: Solid, robust but stylish, a proper furniture language for a campus devoted to business and design at University Wales Newport. Photo Betina Skovbro. Right: Distinct lights integrated with furniture, procured from Momentum by Cardiff University for the Trevithick Library. Such a move breaks the predictable supply chain mould. Photo Betina Skovbro


Top: Youthful exuberance at the University of Glamorgan’s, ‘Atrium’, learning resources centre. Photo Patrick Olney Middle: Furniture utterly integrated with the architecture. University of Wales Newport. Photo Betina Skovbro Above: Cathays Foyle Art learning Space at Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum of Wales). Photo Robin Maggs

s Above: Blueprint Bar in Milton Keynes

Top left: Transforming the institutional image; new fit-out for the restaurant at Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum of Wales). Photo Momentum Left: New student facilities at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Above top: Architects setting the pace. Momentum supply the office of Stride Treglown. Above: Fitting the loose to the fixed. Integration at CAT. (see pp. 2-5) Photo Momentum

matched by Momentum’s supply of loose furniture in the lecture theatre and elsewhere. Then, suddenly, one day there appeared four soft, low-backed chairs in the most prominent public space, the foyer around the courtyard. They are sort of chairs you see everywhere in school staff rooms – and that’s another market that could do with a dose of opening things up for fair competition and allowing companies like Momentum to see what they could do. The blue chairs stand out like sore thumbs. Understandably, after such a tortured building process (the first contractor went bankrupt), there was virtually nothing in the kitty at the end. But somehow they must be replaced. Maybe Momentum could help. That way quality patronage could say we are here for the long term.

Below: momentum in paradise; private residence in the Grenadine Islands. Photo courtesy of Melanie Boissevain Interior Design


t Tim Brotherton

Photo Leighton Morris



Intense works at The Works

House beautiful With RIBA award panel conversations remaining confidential, and their judges’ reports only publicly commenting on those awarded, it does leave the shortlisted architects and clients somewhat stumped and non-plussed. More importantly this lack of transparency closes off an important opportunity for architectural discourse and increasing the public’s understanding of this complex art of architecture.Judging architecture is complex, but that is no argument for keeping it hidden from public view. Many in the profession in Wales have been utterly bemused why neither of the short-listed houses by Swansea-based practice Hyde + Hyde, Idle Rocks (right above) and Pennard House (right below) crossed over into the awards category. Architectural history demonstrates that private house patronage was frequently the vehicle by which the young radical architect with a manifesto for the future broke through to the mainstream. So was there some sort of unfortunate social censorship going on now against the single private house or, at the very least, a positive discrimination towards a public architecture? It would seem not, since in 2011 two practices with projects in Wales have struck it lucky in the private house category, Blue Door by Hall + Bednarczyk Architects, (top left) and Featherstone Young’s Ty Hedfan (left). The latter was also in the running for the RIBA Manser Medal 2011 in association with HSBC which focuses awards on the best single private houses in the UK. They were pipped at the post by a remodelling of a ‘brutalist’ house in Hampstead Lane, London, by Duggan Morris Architects. Intriguingly, the public vote went to the Balancing Barn by MRDV in collaboration with Mole Architects, commissioned by the Architecture of Happiness author and philosopher Alain de Botton. The public can certainly spot a singular striking conceptual idea (right). They have obviously moved on from the Grand Design’s formula of converted (ruined) barns or excessive atria surrounded by endless en suites and power-showers. Certainly, if it was down to a choice through photographs only, the spatial subtlety and comfortable inhabitation of Ty Hedfan would never have stood a chance against the structural antics of the Balancing Barn. But TS would humbly suggest there is far more for the public in Wales to learn from a full understanding of Ty Hedfan. TS will be returning there in the next issue in March. It will also look further into the works of Hyde + Hyde and survey Loyn & Co’s uphill struggles with local planners to sensitively place contemporary architecture in the land.

The Welsh School of Architecture has been very busy around The Works at Ebbw Vale, the striking site of the former Ebbw Vale steelworks (see TS issue 11 Autmn 2002 pp 6-7). Apart from a string of nine basements, one of which housed the stirring National Eisteddfod of Wales’s art and design exhibition in 2010, (facing page centre left) the steelworks themselves are now history, to be retold in the visitor centre being installed in the former steelwork’s general offices, the only building to survive the erasure process. All that is left of the former steelworks itself (apart from the basements) is an enormous man-made plateau. The Welsh School of Architecture’s Design Research Unit Wales (DRU-w) first installed its Ty Unnos visitor centre/house designed largely by Steve Coombs as a substantial contribution to a set of pilot low carbon family homes. TS will be returning to this initiative in the March issue. The same energetic Steve Coombs, with colleagues in DRU-w, designed the Environmental Resource Classroom (facing page top left) serving the central wetlands area, that is seeking to return something of the nature that once occupied the valley floor. The centre was RIBA Award short-listed in 2011. Above the classroom, architect BDP is completing

the Ebbw Vale Learning Zone for Coleg Gwent (above & below). This is part of Wales’s determination to move beyond the academic-

vocational divide, hence the title and no sight of the words ‘school’ or ‘technical college’. All sixth formers in local schools will come here. With its site in the valley bottom, BDP intelligently refers to the roofs as the fifth elevation and have worked hard to inhabit and articulate them. If the University of Wales Newport campus also by BDP is anything to go by (see p.11), the sixth formers of the area are to be given something of which both they and, no doubt, Aneurin Bevan and the new hospital in his name (below) would be proud. --

Are we are all in it together? While Gwynedd in north Wales is already practising regional strategic planning thinking by collaborating with seven of the adjacent local authorities, the south of Wales is only just getting used to the idea of ‘city regions’. Even more challenging is Caerphilly CBC’s Roger Tanner and his vision of ‘city of the valleys’ with its ‘valleys regional parks’ and clusters of valley community hubs reconfigured as market towns. Back in valleys-community activist days of the 1980s, Michael Fleetwood, Barbara Castle and fellow communitarians tried to weld shared struggles across those mountains that divided communities. They created the rubric ‘valley city’.

Mother of the Arts The first event of this year’s annual Cardiff Design Festival in October was the ‘Building Wales: the growing architecture of a small nation 2008-2011’ exhibition at UWIC’s Howard Gardens gallery. Delivered by the ever energetic Design Circle RSAW South branch, this display of the work of recent RIBA Award winners in Wales was beautifully curated at a breakneck pace by James Lockwood of Davies Sutton Architects and Dan Benham of Loyn & Co Architects. Supported by the Design Commission for Wales, this has clearly emboldened the Design Circle (below). For years and years the Eisteddfod’s Visual Arts director Robyn Tomos has wrestled with how best to exhibit architecture and the Eisteddfod’s Gold Medal winner in amongst the arts. This has normally meant reducing it to a digital image show inside a black box at the far end of the Visual Arts Pavillion. There have of course been honourable exceptions, but this is perhaps not the best way to engage with a lay audience. It reduces architecture to a talent show. It explains nothing. So with the National Eisteddfod’s approval Design Circle and the RSAW are running a competition for solo practitioners only (to give them a chance to reach a wider public) to design a demountable reusable pavilion for architecture. The deadline for submissions is late December. It must be erected before August 2012, and within ten days. It is hoped this will be done by a team of volunteers from the larger practices – an act of brotherly support in these tricky times. This is all laudable and invigorating. Tomos must be relieved. One less headache on his punishing schedule; but it does remove architecture from being ‘mother of the arts’ or at least one of them; maybe the architecture pavilion could act as an entrance exit lobby to the main Visual Arts tent, a valuable transition from the bustle of the Maes to the quiet temple of Art?

Forty years later, Edwina Hart AM, Welsh Government Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, has nailed her colours in the last few months to the city-region mast. Elizabeth Haywood leads a group with a twelvemonth task to suggest what shift in governance, if any, is needed. Given a century of tribal local-authority politics this is going to demand some generosity and shared vision by all the top honchos in each local authority tribe. But already up and running as a cohesive glue is Mark Barry’s now well-publicised Institute for Welsh Affairs (IWA) publication A Metro for Wales’s Capital City Region ( There appears little resistance to this proposal to electrify the line from London to Wales and then set up a whole regional electrified network and new rolling stock in the valleys with connecting crossvalley tram/bus light-railway connections. All it needs is the Department for Transport in London to pay up. What was clear from the recent IWA conference on the subject of city regions was that, impressive as they are, Stuttgart, Manchester and Vancouver do not have our own very distinct social/cultural/economic and physical geography. Little can be transferred directly. So while the physical networks of railways make such common sense, let us hope equal radicalism is listened to from those advocating different mutualist socialenterprise mechanisms for financing what we most need to do. We should never forget it wasn’t the ‘market’ of fat cats that provided those miners’ institutes. Looking around us it is clear that capitalism’s global big bang is in melt down, bringing all that destructive interconnectedness down around our ears. We need quickly to find alternative financial mechanisms for building a better future. Touchstone will be returning to this.

The power to inspire


Architect Adam Voelcker has been furiously at work with the pen over the last two years of TS’s enforced holiday. From his base in Garndolbenmaen beneath the towering Moel Hebog of Gwynedd, he was a major contributor to the Pevsner on Gwynedd (published May 2009) along with Richard Haslam and Julian Orbach. This volume received a rave review in The Times and completed Pevsner’s The Buildings of Wales series, for which The Buildings Books Trust was awarded a commendation in the Dewi-Prys Thomas Prize scheme in 2009.

Then, with a foreword by The Prince of Wales, Voelcker scribed what was clearly a labour of love, the life and works of Herbert Luck North: Arts and Craft Architecture for Wales, published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and supported by the RSAW. While North began his career with J D Seddings and Edwin Lutyens, he was never to receive the media attention that accompanied his compatriots, but as the book remarks on its dust jacket: “North was an outstanding designer of humane buildings that were sensitively grounded in their local environment … his thoughtful, modest and sensitive approach … still has the power to inspire.” Voelcker might be revisiting a similar phrase in his next publishing challenge, to make a long overdue monograph of the works of his Cambridge architectural colleague, and fellow north Walian, David Lea. If no publisher takes it up, then the whole profession in Wales should fund it as mutualist endeavour. He deserves nothing less.



Drama at the village As a major retrospective on postmodernism kicked off in London, Cardiff had its own show of the real thing for the BBC down at Roath Basin. Patrick Hannay reports.

You only have to mention the words ‘BBC’ and ‘Cardiff’s Roath Basin’ in architectural gatherings in south Wales to sense the frisson. There is no middle ground. Many spit with fury. Others snigger helplessly. A few argue for its utter appropriateness and wit. Lord Patten, the BBC Trust’s urbane Chairman called it the ‘Doge’s Palace meets IKEA’, a singularly accurate and pithy aphorism. The cause of such controversy is FAT’s (Fashion Architecture Taste’s) elevation to the new BBC Production Facility at Porth Teigr delivered by Holder Mathias Architects (HMA), where Casualty, Doctor Who, Pobol y Cwm and Upstairs Downstairs will now be filmed. This is the outcome of your postlicence fee settlement – the BBC goes regional, and thus a large chunk ends up in Cardiff Bay, and Wrexham’s Glyndwr University is offered a purpose-built facility. The FAT elevation to Roath Lock Studios itself is 260 metres long – although you won’t ever see its current full splendour across the basin once further development comes between it and the water. (It will still be an instantly identifiable backdrop). The BBC required 15,800 sqm of windowless production studios in vast sound-proof sheds supported by a street-front strip of office space, reception and cafe. There are, out the back, full-scale mock-ups of street scenes from both Pobol y

Cwm and Casualty. At one point the tin shed actually becomes the full hospital elevation, but not in public view. Fact and fiction elide as fiction tries so hard to suspend our disbelief. (Is that really what surgeons get up to?) When I go to HMA’s offices they are desperate to make it clear that really it’s nothing to do with them. They feel embarrassed that the blogosphere is being


none too kind – is it ever? It has assumed HMA would condone FAT’s wit; but why such discomfort? Why such po-faced seriousness about a place where the highest level of technological rationality and functionality supports the creation of fiction and, in one case, even science fiction. After all this is stage-set territory and isn’t the façade for the concert hall of the much admired RWCMD (see p.15) doing much the same thing? But nothing will assuage them. This is an old, deep sore, and possibly outdated skirmish about, as many see it, the detritus of postmodernism (PM). The media mill for PM has been working overtime in the last few months. London’s Victoria & Albert Museum has mounted Postmodernism, Style and Subversion 19701990, the first retrospective, that closes on 15 January 2012. Along with an erudite weighty catalogue, Terry Farrell, PM’s high priest in the UK, has been telling us we are all post modern now. Apart from the sharply intelligent Sean Griffiths of FAT and the infamous Charles Jencks, who orchestrated the PM saga, they still appear to have few friends. The deep scars in the UK architectural community resulting from Venturi and Scott-Brown’s National Gallery extension are still raw for some, even thirty years later. For them, throughout the 1980s and 90’s, they had to endure a Britain subjected to superficial planner plagiarisms where ‘fitting in’ meant clumsy elevation mimicry, or where many a property developer’s ‘wolf’ was dressed up in cuddly, but poorly-fitting, lamb’s clothing. Surely FAT has just delivered more of the same, but in a totally appropriate context and in a very knowing, witty, ‘decorated shed’ for a public service. When you get beyond all the bile and look closely, more significant matters start to

Far left: Isometric of Roath Lock studios for the BBC at Porth Teigr, Cardiff Bay, delivered through Igloo Regeneration for Welsh Government. The elevation to the masterplan by FAT is to the front left. The facility consists of huge production studios in sheds interspersed with full scale mocked-up street scenes. Right: The facade by FAT in parts disengages from the building facade. Below: Part of the uberexuberant main entrance. Bottom: The FAT elevation will eventually become just a backdrop to further media oriented projects right on the waterfront edge. All photos by PH

appear. The elevation looks very cheap but wasn’t, and it isn’t that well finished. It’s not a rain screen. It floats free of the lightweight rendered plywood actual skin of the production shed, but the hieroglyphics of its openings sometimes engage with actual window forms behind it. Sometimes they miss. This might not trouble the inhabitants, but it did mean the offices could not be naturally cross-ventilated, a matter that troubles the highly-experienced BBC project manager who takes me round. He is very aware of running costs and sustainability issues. His conversation makes one acutely aware of how very responsible and parsimonious the BBC has been with our public money. The resources are concentrated only on what supports the making of the programme, nothing else. FAT’s uberexuberant entrance gable can only be an ironic

Left: The playful skin engaging with the fenestration, but not always. Below: Ash Sakula Architects’ distinct and inventive architecture for digital media creatives, the first of many projects set at right angles to the BBC Drama Village. Sadly this is not to be. Clearly what is really required is more dressed up ‘sheds’.

critique of the meanest of reception areas behind it that fronts a giant facility beyond it. But the reception is like a Portakabin inside a factory, and that’s how the canteen feels too. It’s seemingly all that is needed. FAT did actually win the initial competition for the BBC project, overseen by Igloo Regeneration, the Welsh Government’s selected development partner for the Porth Teigr project at Roath Basin South. HMA came second. At some point, under the oversight of Igloo’s project manager Mark Hallett,(who studied at the Welsh School of Architecture in the early 1980s), FAT from London ended up with the elevation only, and HMA delivered the production studios. For the client, having HMA’s office less than a mile from the site was no doubt a massive plus for delivering a huge project against a very punishing timescale. All well and good maybe; but then are we spotting a pattern? Ash Sakula was hired by Igloo to deliver the first digital media centre building on the site across the road from the BBC. Now it appears they are not. HMA has been invited to oversee the production stage of what has morphed from a building language appropriate to fast-footed, digital futurists into, most likely, a grade A standard rentable office space. Ash Sakula appears to be out in the cold. Is this a strategy, part of a pattern? In Learning from Las Vegas Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, the lexicon creators of postmodernism, talked of ‘ducks’ and ‘decorated sheds’. Three decades later Martin Pawley confronted the profession with the reality of non-architect designed ‘big shed’ buildings that litter our landscape. Is this a battle between ‘ducks’ and ‘sheds’ or more a case of where the economics of the Welsh Government – Igloo deal are forcing the

adoption of the safe, up-market, office shed option? If it is this, it is a tragedy. The worst outcome would be to build the grade A ‘shed’ and then find its rental level and ambience excluded the very people that need to gather around the BBC. Roath Lock Studios, I’m told, is the equivalent of M&S to a shopping mall, but shopping malls don’t tend to make good street architecture. The BBC is the magnet, the


Touchstones... A licence to erase?

With all the talk of BBC Wales moving its headquarters to Cardiff Bay to join its new production facilities, Roath Lock Studios, what will happen to BBC Broadcasting House in Llandaf? Completed in 1967, this is one of the finest buildings in Wales of the second half of the twentieth century, by one of the best Welsh architects of that period, Dale Owen (Touchstone 5, April 1999, pp14-15). Let's hope that the site is not just sold off for more could-be-anywhere executive houses. Cadw: act now and list this significant piece of architecture before its too late.

Alexandra rock garden?

bees’ nest, around and to which, hopefully, much digital-media creative honey will flow. It is the powerhouse, but the pragmatic requirement of its sheltering offers no natural urban architecture nor any traditional architectural expression of its very real economic and social power. FAT simply answer that contradiction with afront… Did I hear someone say with Complexity and …

Since 'Touchstone' was last published, Cardiff's Cathays Park has seen the arrival of a significant new monument, the Welsh National Falklands Conflict Memorial in Alexandra Gardens. Erected as an unhewn rock from the site of the conflict in 1982 raised high upon an ill-proportioned, monumental stonemason-quality plinth, what does this say about how we commemorate those who have died for us in battle, and of our respect for the capital's civic heart? Clues on dignity, propriety, relationship to place, use of appropriate materials and craftsmanship to be found throughout Jeroen Geurst's excellent recent book 'Cemeteries of the Great War by Sir Edwin Lutyens' (010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2010, ISBN 978 90 6450 7151).



Northern lights Among the architectural patronage of the arts of the last few years in Wales, two venues in the north shine. Malcolm Parry surveys the landscape of Wales’s recent new galleries.

Last year while judging for the National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale, Professor Bill Davies and I found this quotation from a distinguished Professor of Welsh, W J Gruffydd, written in 1926: “We have had no architecture, hardly any painting and very little music until quite recently; the culture of Wales has always been a literary culture and it depends on the Welsh language and the use that is made of it” We felt that what he wrote was undoubtedly correct in highlighting the narrowness of cultural expression in Wales at that time but how, we wondered, had things changed since, particularly regarding architecture? It seemed to us that the early years of twenty-first century architecture in Wales had been promising. Millennium, government and lottery funding produced major schemes that have captured the imagination of the Welsh public. Cardiff’s Senedd, Wales Millennium Centre and Millennium Stadium, the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthenshire, new arts centres at Caernarfon and Newport, Swansea’s Waterfront Museum and Snowdon’s new cafe are all striking buildings that have enhanced the public’s expectations for good, modern architecture. In response, and in general, the profession has raised its game with a number of buildings for

commerce, education and health offering more than utilitarian answers to their briefs. Apart from some notable exceptions for one-off private houses, housing in general has fared less well. What a pity there seems to be no modern day equivalent to the small-scale distinctive housing developments of last century’s architects Herbert Luck North, Graham Brooks and Bowen Dann Davies – modest, characterful and, above all, liveable in. But a real plus in the last decade has been the number of buildings for arts and crafts that have added architectural distinction to sites throughout Wales. Architects have responded to other aspects of Welsh cultural expression and although language and literature still remain pivotal, theatre, music and dance have found professional practitioners and a wide and appreciative audience. Performance spaces in new venues, Left: Crafted objects, crafted architecture at Ruthin. Left below: Roof profiles link town to the hills (see facing page) Right: The simple industrial workshop morphs at special moments into a sculptural composition. (see facing page): Below left and right: Crisp but sensual simplicity is the motto.

Left: Craft workshops round the courtyard with gallery as focus; roofs cantilever to offer sheltered route to gallery door far right. Below left: The rise and fall of distant and near horizons. Architecture connects to, and makes, empathetic landscape. Rght: In-situ tilt-up panel system; intelligent assembly ensures the client has an extraordinary range and volume of accommodation ( one and half times what the Centre had before) for a £4.4 million price tag, which is excellent value.

Key to floor plan 1 Studios 2 Café 3 Gallery 2 4 Main Gallery 5 Collections Gallery 6 Retail Gallery 7 Office 8 Residency Studio workshops 9 Education 10 Tourist information















Left: arrangement of galleries neatly allows various configurations of shut-down, while keeping other displays open. Right: Café double doors open to spill out into the courtyard. This project at Ruthin is a master-class in understatement, but one with appropriate and memorable presence, like the objects it displays within.


theatres and art centres have multiplied throughout the country building on the community and cultural traditions established in the workmen’s institutes in the nineteenth century. The expression of the visual arts has has increased enormously too. New public art is everywhere in the urban landscape. Galleries, art spaces and museums have welcomed an increasing number of visitors eager to learn, enjoy and even participate creatively. We are told that more people visit galleries every week than attend football matches. It is no surprise, therefore, that two recent awardwinning buildings in Wales should be dedicated to the display and production of art and craft. Ruthin Craft Centre by Sergison Bates architects won the Dewi-Prys Thomas Prize in 2009 and this year’s Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecure went to Ellis Williams Architects for their refurbishment of the Mostyn gallery in Llandudno. With the Ruthin Craft Centre, the architects have kept to the essential established pattern of use of the previous utilitarian but undistinguished centre on the edge of town. Here, there is no wilful shape making or use of alien materials, just a ‘spot on’ sense of place making. On an early autumn weekday the lunchtime restaurant is full of retired couples and young mums with pushchairs, the excellent gallery shop appears to be doing good business, the workshops are busy with visitors and children are enjoying the sunshine in the courtyard. The exhibition spaces are elegant and comfortable, allowing the art and craft to take centre stage – not the building. Only when you see how the undulating roof shapes echo the surrounding hills and then you become aware of the neat detailing and quality materials. If only more buildings could offer this restrained characterful rightness.



t 2

10 5






9 9










3 2




1 Shop ( retail gallery) 2 Galleries 3 “The Tube” transition foyer/stair 4 Meeting room 5 Workshop 6 Plantroom 7 Kitchen and café 8 Gallery 9 Voids; upper parts of galleries 10 Gallery office

plan and section of original 1901 gallery


Bottom far left: plan and section of original 1901 gallery (210 sq m). Left: The elevation skin unchanged apart from cladding the existing steeple in gold tiles.. Photo Helene Binet Above: like Ruthin (p.30) they have gained a ‘retail gallery’ (a shop) which in detail and material has airy gravitas. Photo HB

Left: Known as ‘The Tube’, this crafted tactile transition space from the street-front galleries to the inner sanctum is both top-lit sculpture, stair and solid definite artful permanence in a world of shifting art shows on mute backgrounds. Photo HB

Left; on facing page: Thoughtful sculpted junction as stair-bridge. Photo Patrick Hannay

Left centre( facing page): Flight across the light; the route to the upper gallery and café. Photo PH Left: Delivered to the café and upper gallery. Shifting colour cold cathode light installation above servery, by Gavin Fraser of Foto Ma. Photo PH

Bottom left( facing page): One of the four new galleries added, with sawtooth light slots similar to ‘The Tube’. Photo Helene Binet Centre bottom left: Refurbished existing gallery through to main entrance. Photo HB Below left: The back lane elevation; a masterly play of materiality. Photo HB

Llandudno’s Mostyn Gallery had an established reputation for impressive exhibitions despite its uninspiring, dated gallery spaces. A major facelift to its Edwardian building by Ellis Williams Architects, fresh from their success at the Baltic Arts Centre, Gateshead, has given the gallery a new lease of life and added an artistic element to the commerce of the town centre with a new craft shop that opens up seamlessly into the refurbished gallery spaces. A quirky staircase, reminiscent of those in Libeskind’s German galleries, leads to a first floor cafe and video viewing space. The lighting is inventive and subtle, enhancing, not competing with, the art on show. The street elevation with the neighbouring post office, also by the gallery’s original architect G A Humphries, is little changed but the back lane elevation is a masterly play on materiality, the equal of the early, and best, Frank Gehry. The wit of the golden cupola as a fund-raising device adds to the many pleasures of this scheme.

Elsewhere in Wales, Thomas Heatherwick Studio’s competition-winning artists’ studios at Aberystwyth Touchstone sixteen) are a further example of the enlightened architectural patronage of the University. Individual studios clad in crumpled stainless steel appear to have landed in the soft, wooded landscape. The result is slightly surreal like a scene from the children’s TV programme ‘In the Night Garden’. These surprisingly practical units raise questions of contrast; at the same time they appear fragile yet robust, open yet enclosed, alien yet friendly. This is an intriguing and challenging scheme for visitors that offers stimulating, creative bases for the artist-occupants. At Bala’s Canolfan Cywain, architects Dobson: Owen started with a ruined barn and hayshed which have become the genesis for a series of new and refurbished buildings, sculpture and landscaping to provide an distinctive centre for rural life and craft. This is a further example of the success that can be achieved by the shared involvement and close working relationship between client, architect, artists and craftsmen in the creative process. This is not always easy to achieve as the politics of patronage can be complex. Funding bodies’ sensible concerns for ‘value for money’ and previous experience often leads to the mundane, the safe solution, box ticking, playing safe and reliance on the reliable. Imagination, spontaneity and creativity can often be stifled under these conditions. That is why both the Mostyn

Below: Creative Business units at Aberystwyth Arts Centre RIBA Award Winner 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick Studio. Photo Edward Sumner Below again: Bala’s Canolfan Cywain by Dobson: Owen Architects. Photo Betina Skovbro


Gallery and the Ruthin Craft Centre are so admirable. Their practical credentials may be impeccable but not at the expense of lightness of touch, inventiveness and sheer design quality. Champions for quality need to be at the heart of the procurement process. Would either of the Aberystwyth or Ruthin schemes have materialised in the way that they have without the input of individual champions for good architecture? In the case of Ruthin, Michael Nixon, who did not allow his failed attempt to build what would have been the first major UK project by prize-winning architect David Chipperfield at Newtown, stop him from helping out the client body in its deliberations. David Clarke, an art facilitator now sadly lost to Wales, understood artists, architects and, in particular, funding processes. His organisation of architectural competitions resulted not only in the Aberystwyth artists’ studios but also Richard Murphy’s Galeri at Caernarfon. Meanwhile, how has Cardiff, the capital, fared? Despite new iconic buildings and commercial improvements to the city, there is no art space that rivals in quality those of Ruthin and Llandudno.



Right: The new contemporary art galleries at Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum of Wales) by Alwyn Jones Architects. Photos Phil Boorman

The much vaunted £6 million spend on the new galleries at the National Museum in Cathays Park has given us, at last, space to show the work of modern Welsh artists. Previous gallery spce for art has been doubled and one or two of the new galleries are worthy of Smith and Brewer’s building, being well proportioned, nicely lit and spacious. However, the gallery carved out of Alex Gordon’s 1960s extension is less successful: the visitor circulation lacks clarity and there is little specialised provision for photography and video. Craft and ceramics are ‘vitrined’ on the upper edges of the great hall, a space which would be even more impressive if the management would remember the hall’s dedication as a war memorial and remove the jumble of ill-fitting shop, cafe and reception paraphernalia that has cluttered this spectacular interior for the last few years. The sad fate of the Old Library in Working Street continues. Once designated as a centrallocation art centre that failed both architecturally and economically, it now hosts a tourist centre and exhibition ‘The Cardiff Story’, an underfunded, gloomy display of desperately uninteresting objects and information that should delay no Cardiffians or visitors from experiencing the real pleasures of the city proper. But surely it’s not too late for The Old Library? The original concept of a contemporary art centre right in the city centre is fundamentally sound. A committed design team needs to start again to give the whole site a radical overhaul. There is little worth keeping of Edwin Seward’s original building apart from The Hayes façade (the only part listed), the original entrance and the tiled corridor. What an opportunity… The Cardiff Art Map lists no fewer than thirty-eight venues for viewing and buying art and craft.

Some are small, shoestring projects hoping to grow and establish themselves. Of these, Bay Art and Artspace, have succumbed to the new climate of austerity. Nonetheless, Craft in the Bay has excellent work for sale and an interesting programme of exhibitions. But private galleries, the Albany, Kooywood and Martin Tinney have been busy with exhibitions - the last of these boasts a most successful interior conversion of an Edwardian town house that has three floors of elegant, well-lit gallery spaces. Chapter is Cardiff’s best loved art centre. Since the 1970s it has hosted artists, exhibitions, theatre and cinema. Its home, a redundant Edwardian school, has undergone a number of transformations over the years but, until the recent major refurbishment by Ash Sakula Architects, none had managed to deal with the dour institutional nature of the original buildings. The new scheme has ingeniously revitalised the internal spaces and, with wit and elan, given the exterior a true sense of being a twenty-first century art centre while not losing the qualities of the original character which had endeared itself to Chapter regulars. Can we hold out some hope for Swansea and Glendinning Moxham’s delightful Glynn Vivian Art Gallery? This is one of the city’s best buildings and has proved to be a lively art venue. Currently it is closed for redevelopment. I trust that the great top-lit hall with its balcony-mounted copy of Michaelangelo’s statue of a seated, brooding ‘Lorenzo II’ from Florence’s Medici tombs will remain in all its glory. What a metaphor for our financially stretched times- a wicked banker gazing down disdainfully on the struggles of modern artistic expression. Professor Malcolm Parry taught at the Welsh School of Architecture from the 1960s and was Head of School from 1997 to 2002.

Left and right: Chapter Arts Centre RIBA Award Winner 2010 by Ash Sakula Architects; an ingenious revitalision with wit and elan of Cardiff’s most loved arts centre. Photos by Andy Haslam



... the last four years

The Royal Society of Architects in Wales/ Cymdeithas Frenhinol Penseiri yng Nghymru (RSAW) is the voice of the RIBA in Wales. Covering the geography of Wales from our base in Cardiff, we provide support for members through CPD and our two annual conferences. Our annual award schemes recognise outstanding architecture through the RIBA Awards and we reach out to the public through a series of events, including the annual sandcastle competition. We support architectural education through our mentoring scheme at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff. We collaborate with others in the built environment profession to ensure that good design remains on the agenda for everyone on every day. Our core programme is complemented by local events organised by volunteer members

between 2008-2011 on subject ranging from Green Wales to housing and innovation in the built environment. There have also been three Spring Schools in North Wales between 20082011 highlighting subjects such as buildings in the landscape, conservation and planning. Practice makes Perfect: how is architectural practice changing? is the theme of the annual RSAW conference 2011. Watch this space for a report. As part of the RSAW’s ongoing delivery of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), Chapter in Cardiff hosted an evening of talking about Building Information Modelling (BIM), with over 50 people attending. Talks from Paul Fletcher, Steve Race and Graham Cossons were all well received, and the debate continued at Wales’ longest bar for some time after the last speaker had finished. Our BIM event formed part of the ongoing RSAW CPD provision that has seen more than 600 attendees in recent times with events from Health & Safety to Whole Life Costing and many more. Details of the RSAW CPD for 2012 can be found on the RSAW website: The RSAW joined Construction Skills at the National Eisteddfod in 2008 to run a stand about architecture, hosting “Hands-on Design” competition for kids of all ages. Animation PowerPoint presentations of key Welsh buildings added to the architectural

Onwards and outwards in branches throughout Wales.

In the last four years, recognition of good design through the RIBA Awards scheme has grown with more practices entering schemes and more winners. Between 2008-2011, there have been 17 winners of RIBA Awards: more than at any other time during the RSAW’s history. The winners are illustrated on the


strategy. RSAW is working with the Welsh School of Architecture. It launched a mentoring scheme for Year 2 students to match them with local practising architects. Now in its third year, the scheme has developed to great success. Linking the Lands was a collaborative ideas competition and exhibition in 2010, run between the RSAW, the RIBA South West and the ICE for Wales and the South West, to design a potential third Severn crossing.

Poetry at the Senedd The RSAW hosted the RIBA Council in Cardiff in March 2009 with an evening reception at the Senedd. The RSAW commissioned this poem from the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, for the occasion: Slate, Oak, Glass Mountains spent time on this: the slow settlement of silts, mudstones metamorphosed to slate, prehistory pressed in its pages. Rock blown from the quarry face and slabbed for a plinth, a floor, a flight of stairs rising straight from the sea.

atmosphere. The RIBA member consultation event held in 2011 invited members and non-members to debate the priority issues facing architects today and contribute to the RIBA’s five-year

The forest dreamed it: parable or parabola, a roof like the silk gills of fungi, the throat of a lily. A man imagined it: the oak roof’s geometry fluid and ribbed as the tides in their flux and flow.

inside front cover and back cover of this issue: In 2012, the RSAW will launch the Gwobrau Pensaernïaeth Cymru/ Welsh Architecture Awards as part of the RIBA awards. The RSAW has held three conferences

He cools us with roof-pools of rain that flicker with light twice reflected, a wind-tower of steel to swallow our words and exchange them for airs off the Bay. Inside this house of light you can still hear the forest breathe, feel the mountain shift underfoot,


Land and Sand


During 2011, 29 practices were visited across Wales by the RSAW Director, to offer ongoing support to members, and respond to the various issues affecting them. What’s Occurrin’? took place in Barry Island in July 2010 with teams of architects competing in a sandcastle competition against each other and the public. Designed to raise


Engaging with Government

The challenges of the global economy are no stranger to Wales, and against this backdrop the RSAW has been working to support architecture and architects through engagement with Welsh Government on key issues of the day. RSAW has been working behind the scenes to influence the thinking for the first Welsh Building Regulations, due to be devolved at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2011. From 2012, we will be pushing again as Welsh Government launch their formal consultation – if you’d like to know more or have your say, register your thoughts with the RSAW: Alongside the Building Regulations, RSAW has been heavily engaged in the debate over the mandatory requirement for sprinklers in new domestic buildings. The Welsh Government now has the constitutional power to require these but has not exercised it, with the view being that it will be considered alongside Building Regulations. Before any requirement can be brought in, RSAW understands a Regulatory Impact Assessment is required, and the RSAW is rallying information to be able to respond to this in detail. Procurement processes in Wales also represent a major barrier to many, challenging smaller practices and absorbing considerable amounts of time for anyone trying to engage with them. RSAW has been working closely with Constructing Excellence Wales, and others, to push the Welsh Government to change the approach, and this work continues. If you’d like to contribute your experiences of procurement in Wales, please get in touch with the RSAW: Penseiri, a four page A4 colour newsletter is sent to all members reporting on RSAW activities and events, and supplemented the concise fortnightly ebulletin sent to all members. The RSAW also has a daily Twitter feed @ArchitectsWales and new website .


public awareness about architecture, the event attracted 3,500 people. Life’s a Beach, a further competition in 2011, took place in Tenby.

Branch activity Since its inception in 2007, Design Circle has remained active, organizing exhibitions, competitions, quiz nights and lectures. Reflecting Wales 2008 – a snapshot of innovations - was accompanied by a design charette and exhibition. A spring ball and a second Reflecting Wales in 2009 were matched by the enthusiasm of the Design Circle members. In 2010, Design Circle had several successful events including a pub quiz, masquerade ball, Reflecting Wales 2010: What Architects Do ... and why it matters exhibition and golf tournament to name just a few. Design Circle also worked with RSAW to deliver the popular sandcastle competition in Barry Island.(see above) Events in 2011 include the successful pub quiz, a spring ball in association with sawsa (Student Association of the Welsh School of Architecture); and two exhibitions: Building Wales: the growing architecture of a small nation 2008-2011 highlighting work from more than 25 architectural practices in Wales that were nominated for RIBA Awards in the last three years (see p.27); and remnants, an open competition for Welsh students and practitioners, highlighting imaginative responses to leftover spaces in Cardiff, and supported by the LIF fund of the RIBA. Following their winter 2010 branch meeting, the Mid-Wales Branch is exploring

new ways of reinvigorating themselves as the vast geographical area of the mid-Wales branch (from Machynlleth to Presteigne) contains only 70 members in an area with few major towns. In October 2011, a successful Branch dinner was held in Lampeter. Mid Wales branch will also be looking to expand their activities by working with members in the neighbouring English areas of Herefordshire and Shrewsbury. North Wales Society of Architects (NWSA) in the last four years have included a memorable trip to the ‘Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture’ exhibition in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in November 2008, including RSAW Director, Liz Walder, on her first visit North. NWSA’s annual lecture series has continued to attract audiences of 30 + members and supporters of architecture, who have been treated to inspiring talks from Architype, DRUw, Duggan & Morris (recent winners of the Manser Medal), Prue Chiles, Bryant Priest Newman, Communion Design, Adam Khan, Hall + Bednarczyk (2011 RIBA Award winners) and Feilden Fowles. Three ‘tour & talk’ events have taken place with a walking tour around the work of Herbert Luck-North in Llanfairfechan, led by Adam Voelcker, author of a book on North’s work and co-author of the new Pevsner Architectural Guide for Gwynedd (see p. 27). In 2010, members also visited the new BREEAM Excellent rated WAG offices in Llandudno Junction by Austin-Smith and the remodelled Oriel Mostyn by Ellis Williams Architects in Llandudno. Mostyn went on to win the Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture in 2011(see p. 32). West Wales Branch organised two successful CPD walks and tours in 2008 to St Teilo’s Chuch, Llandeilo and St David’s Cathedral café, as well as a Christmas event. In 2010, Oriel y Parc at St David’s played host to the West Wales Branch for their AGM and annual tour. At the event, the RSAW also awarded Honorary Membership to architectural historians Julian Orbach and Philip Thomas for their services to Wales. West Wales branch organised two tours in 2011: to Roch Castle and Penrhiw Priory; and also to Ysgol Glannau Gwaun, a major new £6m school on a stunning site in Fishguard. In 2010, Oriel y Parc at St David’s played host to the West Wales Branch for their AGM and annual tour. At the event, the RSAW also awarded Honorary Membership to architectural historians Julian Orbach and Philip Thomas for their services to Wales. West Wales branch also worked with the RSAW to deliver 'Life's a Beach' sandcastle competition in 2011.

touchst ne

Touchstone issue18 is also supported by

The magazine for Architecture in Wales

Issue 18 December 2011

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For information on subscription to Touchstone, contact the RSAW,

President: Andrew Sutton Treasurer: Gareth Scourfield Secretary: Geraint Roberts Director: Liz Walder

Opinions expressed in Touchstone are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW). The RSAW welcomes contributions, comments and views for publication in Touchstone. Please send to RSAW is the voice of the RIBA in Wales. All enquiries should be addressed to the Royal Society of Architects in Wales / Cymdeithas Frenhinol Penseiri yng Nghymru: 4 Cathedral Road Cardiff CF11 9LJ

We should particularly like to thank members and practices of the RSAW Leadership Group for their generous financial support for Touchstone’s endeavours to promote good design and stimulate constructive debate. Design and production: Design: Ray Nicklin Printing: Zenith Media Editorial team: Editor: Patrick Hannay Sub-editing: Jonathan Vining, Jane Llewellyn-Dixon, Liz Walder

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Back issues of Touchstone are available from the RSAW:









Over the last four years (2008-11) Wales has won an increasing number of RIBA Awards each year. The winners are illustrated here and on the front inside cover. 1 2 3 4


5 6 7

Wales’ Winners

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City Centre Campus, University of Wales, Newport RIBA Award winner 2011 Building Design Partnership: Photo Martine Hamilton Knight Ty Hedfan RIBA Award winner 2011 Featherstone Young: Photo Tim Brotherton WISE Building at Centre for Alternative Technology RIBA Award winner 2011 Pat Borer and David Lea Architects: Photo Tim Soar Sleeperz Hotel RIBA Award winner 2010 Clash Associates: Photo Daniel Clements Students Union, University of Glamorgan RIBA Award winner 2011 Rio Architects: Photo Richard Roberts School of Management, Cardiff Metropolitan University UWIC RIBA Award winner 2011 Austin-Smith: Lord LLP: Photo Morley Von Sternberg Margam Discovery Centre RIBA Award winner 2010 Loyn & Co Architects and Design Research Unit, Welsh School of Architecture: Photo Kiran Ridley Hafod Eyri (Snowdon Summit Building) RIBA Award winner 2010 Ray Hole Architects: Photo Ray Wood Blaenafon World Heritage centre RIBA Award Winner 2008 Purcell Miller Tritton: Photo Patrick Hannay

Touchstone 18  
Touchstone 18  

the magazine for Architecture in Wales