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touchstone ISSN 1365-7437

The magazine for Architecture in Wales

September 2012

a textbook case 3 Breathing new life and purpose into underused listed buildings requires robust interior architecture. The Pentan Partnership sets the pace ...

lost in place 6 Bargoed in ‘the valleys’ had a master plan that understood settlements as landscape phenomena. Did it survive market forces? The master-planners revisit.

town and gown 11 A student from CAT’s architecture diploma course challenges stereotypical provision of student hostels.

modesty blaze 12 From north and south Wales, two housing projects almost a hundred years old offer some timely reminders of what’s important in designing rural and suburban homes.

homes in the dock 15 Powell Dobson Architects raises the bar for urban housing design and construction in Newport.

procuring excellence 21 Welsh Government has been working hard to make us better procurers of buildings, but what happened to the architecture and discerning patronage?

distinct for distinction 2 6 How does an Eisteddfod award-winning school compare with those in the recently-terminated Building Schools for the Future programme?

altering architecture 30 One castle bucks the trend. Private patronage in Pembrokeshire, through a clear strategy of attack, creates a retreat.


issue nineteen

Touchstone issue 19 2012 is supported by:


touchstone For information on subscription to Touchstone, contact the RSAW, 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

T 029 2022 8987 F 029 2023 0030

Registered Charity no: 210566 President: Andrew Sutton Vice President: Dan Benham Treasurer: Gareth Scourfield Secretary: James Chambers Director: Liz Walder 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. Also a particular thanks to Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and Jim Johnson, co-author of ‘Renewing Old Edinburgh; the enduring legacy of Patrick Geddes’ for generous sponsorship towards this particular issue of Touchstone. Design and production: Design: Ray Nicklin Printing: Zentith Media Editorial team: Editor: Patrick Hannay Sub-editing: Jonathan Vining, Jane Llewellyn-Dixon. Editorial Advisory Group: Jonathan Adams, Kevin Hong, Bernadette Kinsella, Frank Molloy, Professor Richard Parnaby, Jonathan Vining, Jaqui Walmsley Pierre Wassenaar, Professor Richard Weston Patrons: Zaha Hadid Karla Kowalski Thomas Lloyd Jan Morris Richard Murphy Sunand Prasad Richard Silverman Back issues of Touchstone are available from the RSAW:

expanding the clearing Dewi’s spirit was back on the Maes in August. The voice of architecture briefly had a greater physical presence in the nation’s ‘field’ of culture, as it did in those infamous 1970s radio broadcasts by Dewi, where this nationalist head of the Welsh School of Architecture, Dewi-Prys Thomas yearned for a lifting of architectural quality in Wales. Now in 2012 the Eisteddfod Maes had an architecture pavilion, designed by graduates of that same school. It was a modest ‘forest’ with a small ‘clearing’. Forest clearings have history. They are natural gathering places for dissenters, non conformists those who want to break free from a tired and overbearing business-as-usual mindset. Adjacent to this ‘clearing’, the annual black box of dumb wordless architectural images in the Arts and Craft tent had been prised open and brought out into the light through the energies of Carole-Anne Davies, Robyn Tomos and the school’s DRU-w member Rhian Thomas. At the opposite end of the Maes was the remarkable ‘Adain Avion,’ a mobile art space created from the fuselage of a DC-9 airplane, transformed by Spanish sculptor and designer Eduardo Cajal. It had travelled the length and breadth of Wales. It was going to download it’s black box of actions and memories in the nation’s open air museum at St Fagans to provoke the populous. Fixed clearings and mobile cultural soap-boxes connect. Since our last issue, the Welsh School of Architecture ( WSA) has been on an ex traordinar y journey. Not content to have its tiny guerrilla research and practice unit DRU-w constantly pushing so many forwardthinking projects for Wales’s future, its guiding hand, Wayne Forster, ensured that for the first time in the School’s long history, the whole of the final year MArch students focused on the ‘Heads of the Valleys’, orchestrated by tutor Andy Roberts. When you put that much talent and creative energy onto the case, you should get electricity. But almost inevitably it largely went unnoticed by the politicians and people of that

region. Like the small gatherings in the clearing on the Maes the conversation was with the converted. Of course, to produce something of real value one needs documentation of the calibre commissioned by the Swiss government, namely the ETH Studio Zurich’s publication Switzerland an Urban Portrait .Such an initiative requires a longer haul commitment by the state, the university system and above all the involvement of the very best practitioners Wales can hire to create a meaningful spatial plan, rather than the well meaning ‘Wales Spatial Plan’ currently gathering dust on civil servants’ shelves. But it was a bold and poignant start by the WSA. One unit called ‘Fighting Spirit’ lit an incendiary spark. Their research as action, using all contemporary media, is hopefully a sign of things to come. Their re-engagement with the rallying cries of ‘They should have seen us’ and ‘Imagine what we could be’ touched a chord. There is a stirring in the undergrowth. An impatient younger generation needs to grab the reins as did Dan Benham, Chair of Design Circle, in pushing hard for the Eisteddfod architectural pavilion competition and ensuring it was built. The recent purchase of a particular copy of the thirteenth centur y laws of Hy wel Dda for the Na tional Librar y of Wales is of itself a hugely symbolic moment. While the na tion already has co p i e s o f t h o s e enlightened and progressive laws, distinct to Wales, and crushed by Henry VIII’s ‘Laws in Wales Act’ 1535-1542, the significance of this par ticular purchase was that it was the ‘pocketbook ’ version, the document that like the Eisteddfod allows it’s influence in those times to be peripatetic, enacted across the nor th, south, east and west of Wales. Architecture in Wales urgently needs its vocal ‘pocke t -

book’ peripatetic public debate and manifesto. If the Maes architec ture pavilion is not quite robust enough to become mobile, bring back A lsop’s ‘ Tube’ from Cardiff Bay, currently festering uselessly in some warehouse. A rchitec ture needs its own ‘Adain Avion’. It’s time for us to put our collective heads above the parapet. While essential diplomatic lobbying goes on vigorously outside of the public domain, we are all responsible for supporting these efforts by raising the profile of architectural debate within wider civic society. Sandcastle competitions aren’t enough. We aren’t looking to London for a lead either, particularly when the RIBA current communications policy review calls for a closing down of regional architecture magazines. The nex t three years should be an extraordinary moment in our culture’s history. The vigorous conversations that will lead to us putting in place three legislative foundations for a better built environment for Wales (see back inside cover) should be a catalyst for wider public debate about the architecture we deserve. At the end of 2015 we must not arrive with that same student lament. ‘They should have seen us’ must have become ‘we were seen and heard’. The best of architecture and above all the patronage and judgement that brings it about, will be celebrated by a much larger constituency. We will have expanded the clearing. 䢇

For the inaugural Eisteddfod architectural pavilion, competition winner CoombsJones sought the essence of a Welsh landscape

landscape abstract

a forest


valley plateau




architecture chair

water collector

Note: The ‘Fighting Spirit’ unit is Louisa Barfoot, Natalie Hardbattle, Ben Thomson, Aaron Tschörner, Rebecca Wainwright and Nick Drofiak and can be accessed at:


1,2,3 Patrick Hannay 4 ‘Fighting Spirit’

Inaugaral Eisteddfod architectural pavilion main organisers: Royal Society of Architects in Wales, Design Circle RSAW South, National Eisteddfod of Wales: Architects: CoombsJones architects + makers Structural engineer: Mann Williams It was also supported by: Building Reasearch Establishment, Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, Design Commission for Wales, Grwp Gwalia, Loyn & Co Architects, Pear Communications, Planning Officers Society for Wales, Richard Parfitt Associates, Troup Bywater + Anders, The Vale of Glamorgan Council and a kind contribution from local businessman Michael Isaac Main contractor/sponsor: Eco-Build Wales Suppliers and contributors: G&T Evans, Jones & Whitehead, Keyline and P&P Suppliers 1

Is it only in a recession that the remodelling of existing architecture is given the oxygen of publicity?

re-inventing architecture

What is it with the ‘re’ word in architecture? It takes a re-cession seemingly to bring it to the fore, but only with a grudging sense of ‘this is not how it should be’. So the architectural media are forced to discuss re-novation, re-habilitation, re-new, re-novate, re-store, re-furbishment, re-modelling and the most popular of all, re-trofit. We even have retrofit awards now, but that’s just to ensure they don’t pollute the pure architecture! They imply that if these were proper times we would be discussing ‘architecture’, by which they mean ‘new-build’ (but of course to term it so would be demeaning). When you suggest the term ‘interior architecture’ for the whole of what is, in essence, the remodelling of what exists, then some in the profession go all queasy. A dominant part of the profession definitely wants to keep all this ‘re’ stuff in the second class citizen category, which is curious since both Fred Scott in his formidable book ‘On Altering Architecture’ and ex RIBA president Sunand Prasad writing in his practice’s monograph both testify to the fact that this interior architecture is more than 50% of the profession’s workload. So what’s the beef? The final bargain basement put-down comes from the editor of the RIBAJ when in a recent leader he refers to such work as ‘make-do-and-mend’. Was that the mindset of those who scrutinised the RIBA award submission by Pentan Partnership for its remodelling of the Grade II*-listed Hanbury Baptist Chapel in Bargoed, south Wales into a new public library, council one-stop shop, local archive and worship space. Did the local awards panel think, oh that’s just a pile of furniture and a lick of paint? If they did, what a project they missed. (see pp. 3-5) For the Bargoed scheme demonstrates the key tenets of interior architecture, namely, to preserve or reinstate the primary volumes and atmospheric qualities of the original architecture which have frequently been messed up over time; apply ‘creative demolition’ that releases and celebrates spaces for new use while at the same time demarcating the new from the existing; checking fundamentally critical dimensions of new uses to ensure a snug fit with primary elements of the existing ; finding a language of intervention that allows a legible reading of the new layer against the existing, and if possible ensure most of the intervention is ‘reversible’, should the building’s first purposedesigned use re-emerge and demand reoccupation or the current new uses fail to survive; and, last but not least, find a visual/material language to


appropriately express the ‘client culture’ of the users. To achieve award-worthy interior architecture you need the right mindset with the right people. You need an enlightened and risk-taking local authority conservation officer and the equivalent in the government heritage department, in this case Cadw. You need an intelligent and risk-taking patron, in this case United Welsh Housing Association, to go the extra mile in paying for crucial material interventions that make all the difference to the end result. You need a contractor, Carter Lauren, which has the craft skills and respect for the original, allied to the inventive mindset of turning every unexpected problem discovered in the existing building into a creative opportunity; it demands a creative building control officer who can trust his judgement rather than blandly applying the rules; it requires a respected county planner with courage and a long-term vision allied to the trust of local politicians (see pp. 6 - 8). The community is fortunate in having Roger Tanner as their chief planner, even if they no doubt curse and swear at the delays in delivery; oh and yes, you need architects who balance humility and an ability

A dominant part of the profession definitely want to keep all this ‘re’ stuff in the second class citizen category to listen to people and their histories with a confidence in making interior architecture. It’s all about getting the key strategic moves right (see pp. 3-5). As Peter Salter wisely noted, getting it right and achieving consistency at 1:500 and then 1:5 are crucial. Everything else is filler. For interior architecture one might down-scale to 1:100 and 1:5, but it’s the same principle. Oh and by the way, we only need the term ‘interior architecture’ for as long as some dominant parts of the profession and the media refuse to acknowledge and grant equal status to all facets of the profession’s existing workload. I am sure that won’t be too difficult a task. It is all architecture after all, isn’t it? 䢇

There are rare moments when everything comes together. This is one of them. Tom Leitener reports on Constructing Excellence Wales’s ‘Project of the Year’ .

a textbook case 1


In the beginning was the word, and that’s fortunately how it will remain in Bargoed – but the word has expanded to embrace the secular. The 1906, Grade II*-listed Hanbury Road Baptist Chapel, on a site at the heart of the town, was built for a capacity congregation of 1,000 at the height of the industrial revolution. With congregation levels having dwindled to fewer than fifty, November 2011 saw the building transformed into the town’s new library, a onestop-shop for council services, an outpost for the family and local history resources centre, plus a café, while still providing a worship space for the very much reduced 1 Old face onto Bargoed’s main street. The civic presence of the former Hanbury Road Chapel make a fitting face for the town’s new public library. 2 New face onto the new public access to the town, the library acts as a beacon for a regenerated Bargoed when seen from the valley below. New accommodation is quite clearly delineated in form, material and fenestration from the existing, transforming an unprepossessing, unloved gable elevation into a window onto the re-landscaped valley as country park below. 3 The new congregation of books and public services. Retaining the organ above the new library reception and flooding it with daylight from above provides a fitting overlay of old and new uses.

elderly congregation. This is no mean feat as an act of public and civic patronage plus architectural planning skill, but it is far more than that. The building not only spearheads an attempt to reorient the town’s geography by bringing the past responses to a very distinct landscape forward to a visionary present (see pp 6-8), but it makes an even more splendid building by understanding the tenets of interior architecture. (see p.2) Unpicking the history is vital, if strategies are to have coherence. The chapel was not built in one go. First came the opening of the Sunday School Hall in 1899 on the steeply-sloping site, with the two-storey chapel and its raked lower floor and U-shaped balcony being eventually completed above it, seven years later, in 1906. The hall clearly doubled up as a worship space in its early days, as the discovery of a baptismal pool during the building works revealed. The interior was fully refurbished in 1920 by the congregation. A magnificent organ was added at the east end, in the choir chamber, in 1933. True to the geography of so many south Wales valleys’ towns, the high street and the buildings fronting onto it, run along the contours, turning their backs on the valley floor below where the sole reason for their existence, the



1 Martin Workman 2 Patrick Hannay 3 Martin Workman



mines, were once located. Walls of twostorey buildings on a road front of fine civic elevations, can become five and six storey nondescript facades at the rear, such is the steepness of the slope. The chapel was a classic of the genre. Now in the valley floor is a country park. Now the new building faces both ways. How green is my valley starts to have real meaning to 3


1 The Chapel in its heyday waiting for its congregation of one thousand.

the town, although it’s early days. Through negotiation the congregation agreed to return to where it started, on the lower floor, retaining its former ambience by reassembling the former pews and pulpit. Thus the chapel above is released for the new uses. But they also agreed, and this is vital, to share the long slender floor plan with the library’s one-and-a-half storey reference section and, even more vitally, to allow public access from the library space above, through their worship space to the new café and all the facilities in the new valley-fronting tower of ancillary accommodation. The ruination of so many chapels by cellularisation has been avoided but, more importantly, social boundaries are blurred, spaces are shared and yet, when

required, privacies are respected The chapel’s startling volume, castiron structure and decoration, and even the raking ground floor section are kept intact, although a new floor layer with underfloor heating is fitted to the same rake (reversible in the future). Where the pulpit once was, now stands the current fount of secular information, flooded with new daylight from a glazed roof element separating the new flat-roofed tower of ancillary accommodation quite distinctly from the pitched roof chapel. The one-stop-shop neatly nestles off axis in the new tower, with magnificent views over the valley. The organ, that filled the former eastern end behind the pulpit, is now a centrepiece, literally, with striking views from the librarian’s fifth floor 4


2 Overlap of learning and worship. View from the lower level teaching/study space to the new reconfigured and reduced chapel beyond. 3 The reconfigured chapel, which permits vital public access through to other services in the building when not in use. 4 Finding funds for armour-plated glass was crucial to the retention of the fine existing chapel balustrades. 5 The double height café/meeting space in the extension overlooking the valley also offers a view back into the chapel and teaching space beyond. 6 Librarian’s offices in the new extension have splendid views down over the organ into the new library. Everything is connected and overlaid. 7 The brick-clad corner and base to the new extension acts also as a super-graphic ‘L’ for library which has evolved into a small graphic device internally for many different uses.


offices beyond it, looking back down over it into the library below. While the spatial experience from many vistas is uplifting, and for a firsttime visitor, breath-taking, the equally critical decisions were the furniture, lighting and detailing of the balconies. So many contemporary libraries have been ruined by skimping on the shelving and lighting specification. This is not the case here. Equally, in transforming the upper


1-5 Martin Workman

balconies into library space, the cast-iron decorated balcony railings were never going to suffice under current regulations. United Welsh and Caerphilly County Borough Council are to be applauded for their decision to stump up the cash for what became the only solution that could deliver safety with refinement, namely armour-plated glass. All the contemporary interventions, of whatever scale and purpose, are given a quite distinct colour and material palette, that add a more light-hearted contemporary layer to the solid timber and cast- iron sobriety of the chapel. The long tradition of civic places of teaching in the valleys, of which the miners’ institutes and chapels were, and are separately its finest emblems, has been

KEY TO SECTION + PLANS 1 Family/local history centre 2 Teaching / study space 2 Info / learning + help desk 4 Worship space 5 Pulpit 6 Meeting room 7 Café / activity area 8 15 person stretcher lift

9 Main foyer 10 Information desk 11 Children’s reading area 12 Reception: Issues / returns 13 Customer First one stop shop 14 Interview room 15 Library store / archive 16 Teens library + quiet reading / WIFI 17 Staff + meeting rooms

17 16 15



extended into the twenty-first century at Bargoed. The library can be the new ‘urban agora’. At Bargoed it is now a place for basic skills’ classes, the Bargoed Debating society, a spot for Gwent police surgeries with citizens, a place for University of Newport’s outreach service twelve-week courses, for gatherings of the Rhymney Valley Welsh Literary Society and yet still 7

6 2




11 9

12 14



6 3 5 2



1 8

a place of Baptist worship and a fully functioning library for all ages. Spiritual and secular space, bound by the word. It seems an appropriate symbol that the eastern inward-facing pulpit is now replaced by the outward looking tower of secular inspiration and nurture. A small beacon of hope once more, for a valley’s future. 䢇


Credits: Commissioning client / end user: CCBC Developer / project manager: United Welsh Funding bodies: United Welsh, Welsh Government (Heads of the Valleys programme, CYMAL), CCBC, Cadw Architect / Lead designer / Interior design / CDM: Pentan Partnership Contract manager/ QS: G R Jones Structural engineers: Smart Associates M&E engineers: BME Partnership Lead contractor: Carter Lauren Construction


6 Patrick Hannay 7 Martin Workman

Mechanical subcontractor: C.E.S Electrical subcontractor: Amberwell Engineering Services Lifts: Schindler Stone repairs: Dawsons Structural steelwork: Dollcast Specialist steelwork and balustrading: Concept Balustrades Render: Welsh Lime Works Secondary glazing: Selectaglaze Internal fit-out: Bridgend Office Furniture

Note: the Bargoed Library has won the following awards: Construction Excellence Wales 2012 awards - ‘Project of the year’ CLES (Centre for Local economic strategies) ‘better places’ awards best public sector project AMT (action for market towns) Wales awards – Social and Community project of the year


Huge sums of money have been lavished on endless attempts to regenerate the ‘valleys’ towns of south Wales, but is there any point if you allow market values to destroy any meaningful sense of place ?

lost in place

Bargoed 1947 1

The airwaves went electric in July. Could this be right? No it wasn’t the Olympics. The media were reporting that the south Wales valleys were to have their railway network electrified. At last, was this the infrastructure tipping point that would sort out a half century of decline? Two years earlier Derek Jones, reporting the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ conference on the future of town centres in Wales, was waxing lyrical about ‘Bargoed’s Big Idea’ as presented by the ‘inspiring’ Roger Tanner, the Strategic Planning and Urban Renewal Manager for Caerphilly County Borough Council. Bigness is no stranger to valleys regeneration and to Bargoed. Zillions have been poured into road and bridge building and even reopening railways or keeping stations working, as at Bargoed, plus adding a bus interchange to boot. You can get out faster now, and of course, return quicker to sleep. The big boys, such as consultant Capita Symonds and engineer Hochtief Griffiths are everywhere. More big-ness. The armies of land agents within the former Welsh Development Agency (WDA), spent decades erasing and flattening the memories of closed mines and steelworks to create plateau sites for shiny new industries that came and went, as did the WDA. Country parks carpeted the valley floors in place of the mines. Thousands of tons of coal-tip waste were reconfigured, sometimes carted across to the other side of the valley to create contour-defying plateaux for development. Bargoed is a classic in this respect. Town after town saw the edge-of-town big supermarket as salvation, only to find their high street independent retailers wrung dry. Bargoed is on the edge of tipping its toe in this water. Morrisons are coming. Heritage played its part for some valley towns, with whole streets of Victorian shopfronts restored and fine public domain laid out everywhere. Blaenafon now has to face the truth that no amount of tarting up for tourists will change the fact that the core town’s purpose was no more. Heritage will not resurrect it. Compaction not reinstatement should have been the strategy. Programme after government programme set up by quangos sought the golden goose to lay the golden egg. The Heads of the Valleys Partnership created in 2007 is merely the latest in a long line. Nobody could say there has not been big thinking and big money spent, nor good intent, nor that it continues to occur. Only the most curmudgeonly could ignore Roger Tanner’s massive commitment and vision, with all his team of


officers and councillors in Caerphilly and the towns under their care. But is it the right sort of bigness? In 2005 Camlin Lonsdale was asked to explore with the community a town centre study and come up with a master plan for Bargoed. Chris Loyn architect joined the team. The station and bus station to the north were a given. The new bypass and its new southern entry point to the town were also a fix as was the intent to secure a future in-town food store (supermarket). The country park in the valley floor was already blossoming into existence. Camlin read the human marks in the land, the utterly distinct form of hill-side settlement already provoked by such a steeply contoured place. To the existing ‘wynds’, and still-born sloping ‘square’ they added the potential for ‘promenade’, ‘promontory’ a ‘town wall’, and a ‘pitch’ and more ‘wynds’. Through creative demolition and street reconfiguration, plus compaction of uses, they sought to create a partially-covered sloping proper town square addressing the valley with (a ‘pitch’) over the top of a supermarket buried beneath, and set deep into the steeply sloping contours. Above all was the opportunity to make a place of new meaning built from the best aspects of its current distinct geography. 2


1,2 Courtesy CCBC


Camlin Lonsdale master plan for Bargoed 2005













With the scars of the pits gone (and the jobs) and the valley floor returned to nature (still scarred by the new bypass) this was a chance for Bargoed to join the spatial joys and patterns of other hillside towns, the promontory, the promenade and sitting place along the wall, the dramatic views of the opposing hills, and valleys glimpsed between buildings down the steps of narrow ‘wynds’. This was now a town on the steep edge of a country park. This was a typology for a ‘place,’ first and foremost, not a set of development sites linked by transport and pedestrian infrastructure. This was not a master plan but a potentially masterly place, to be allowed to grow gradually as circumstances allowed. Seven years later, in May 2012, Touchstone set up a revisit to Bargoed. Robert Camlin, Chris Loyn, Roger Tanner and Ed Green of Pentan Partnership, architect of the new Bargoed Library see (pp. 3-5) walked the town. Seven years on, Camlin and Loyn were crestfallen. On seeing the model of Holder Mathias Architects’ development for Morrisons in the town Library, ‘fallen’ changed to utter disbelief. On presenting the Camlin Bargoed master plan to the Design Commission for Wales (DCfW) in 2005, it received a drubbing. More politely, DCfW summarised: ‘… we remain to be convinced that the scale is

Bargoed 2012




appropriate and that implementation based on such extensive demolitions is feasible.’ Most hurtful of all was their observation that: ‘... we suggest a review be undertaken of the present qualities of Bargoed and an identification of what is worth preserving and enhancing’, as though that was not the very essence of Camlin’s work with the community. But did such an overview have to exclude some radical rethinking of Bargoed’s new place in its valley? Camlin tried a riposte. ‘The current study is not seen so much as a master plan, as a design-led investment model for a town of modest means.’ In that was the nub of a major misunderstanding. That misunderstanding is rife across Britain. Camlin Lonsdale was not granted a watching brief over Bargoed from 2005 onwards. In 2012, a large section of Camlin’s proposed properties for demolition have gone to make way for Morrisons, which will not be asked to bend its national formula to what could have been a particular place in the land, other than to clad itself in a ‘green’ wall; they have a mammoth plateau to plonk themselves on, made even larger by a perimeter service road provoked by an earlier bid from Asda. (The recession bit just as Sainsbury was about to sign up in 2008). The plateau ensures there is no sense of a town perched on a hillside. This is completely at odds with Camlin’s intentions. The ‘town wall’, if one could even use that term, is ‘wall-papered’ in heritage design-guide stone in a format that so clearly indicates it is not doing the holding back of the land, but there is no ‘forest park’ (as at Powis castle), no promontory, no pedestrian bridge over the railway to the park below, or meaningful promenade. In being so watered down is it hardly surprising that it is difficult to convince retailers on the high street to turn their sights on the valley behind them. The floating pitched roof planes of Loyn’s open town square will instead become the mono-pitched roof edges hiding the superstore ventilation plant, a solution so loved of the supermarket as faux-barn aesthetic. The remaining pitched floating planes are to become roofs to a terrace of neo-vernacular shop fronts to the high street masking larger unit spaces behind, all terminating in a café overlooking a colossal car park. Is this what the DCfW review panel envisaged when it asked for ‘more that is preserving and enhancing’? Surely not. There is to be no significant gathering place to speak of (other than the massive plateau car park), even though it is now recognised that the retail heart of the town has to coalesce round this southern end where Camlin proposed a substantial square. So much for binding a place to its spectacular landscape. On every single count it fails. The heart sinks.







1,2 Camlin Lonsdale/Loyn & Co’s proposals for a new partially-covered market square set above and connected down into a supermarket element buried into the hillside below with terraced forest garden further below that. 3,4 Current proposal for the new Morrisons for Bargoed by Holder Mathias Architects, set to occupy the massive man-made plateau. 5 The plateau that counters and destroys the distinctive landscape phenomenom that is Bargoed.

The demolished library and health Centre that DCfW fretted over have all been found better homes by United Welsh in partnership with the council (see pages 3-5) and architect Ed Green is planning a ‘pocket park’ to replace part of the current car park at the rear of the new library. Yes, the northern-end bus station is in place linked to the station and a park and ride; there are remarkably two trains an hour and a broad ‘wynd’ of new steps (curiously by Broadway Malyan, not Camlin) connecting the transport interchange to the town. Under construction are three phases of public domain works on the high street of Bargoed. All this is an achievement and progress of sorts for Bargoed, but the bigger vision, implemented in market-sensitive, phased delivery stages, is buried. Unpicking how and why it was lost would take a PhD thesis and is not really important.

As Robert Camlin put it so succinctly: ‘settlements of this type are, above all, landscape phenomena and should be recognised as such.’ As Wayne Forster of the Welsh School of Architecture has railed so often: ‘Wales has a Spatial Plan, but no understanding of the real term ‘spatial’. For that you need to look at the work of Hertzog and de Meuron for Switzerland in its seven-volume three-year study.’ Camlin concludes the revisit: ‘To rely on pragmatic engineering and market values alone is inadequate. We need to learn some lessons, the most important of which is to recognise the purpose and benefits of master planning along with that most elusive of skills, the art of patronage. Other than ‘how to catch a supermarket’, I don’t see any lessons at Bargoed.’ 䢇 7

6 Pentan Partnership’s proposal 6 for a ‘pocket park’ to link visually the new library to the landscape in the valley below. Let’s hope the money is found to execute it properly. 7 Vital new public domain work on Bargoed’s old main thoroughfare.


3,4 Courtesy CCBC/HMA 5+7 Patrick Hannay 6 Pentan Partnership


A searing critique of the current Welsh environmental condition, was given its premiere in the Welsh School of Architecture in June. Thomas Dylan’s aka Bob Croydon’s ‘Under Ply Wood’, was performed by a cast of six. Two of the audience measure its impact

turning the other face

The name on the tin may have been Thomas Dylan but punters arriving for the world premiere of ‘Under Ply Wood’ knew they were in for a night of summer-solstice fireworks, given that the real author was Bob Croydon, man of property and courter of controversy. Croydon, with more time on his hands after parting company with his last boss, the Prince of Wales in headline-making circumstances, is now able to give full public vent to his considerable creative powers and his concerns about the state of modern-day Wales. Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ has its share of surrealism and nogood boyos but the Swansea-born poet, whose 1950s’ satire inspired this twenty-first century makeover, would hardly recognise the f r i g h t e n ing dystopia that has overwhelmed his small seaside town at the hands of Croydon. ‘Hush, the babies are sleeping as their single parents snore, the bar room bore, bored bureaucrats, spoiled brats of bloated plutocrats and scabby cats; the old aged, the minimum waged, the disengaged; unemployed bricklayers, bankrupt purveyors, smug surveyors, white van conveyors and football players. Chancers and pole dancers… Debased and two-faced politicians, social statisticians; social scroungers, full time loungers; and the economically inactive majority’. One hour of coruscating social comment using much the same formal devices as the original, was backed by projections of Croydon’s own lurid artwork, and voiced up sportingly by five of his mates from the world of architecture. According to the author, this is satire directed not at the people of this ‘large generic coastal town’ but at those who have been engaged in the business of ‘regeneration’ since the 1960s: ‘After huge expenditure of resources’, says Croydon - ‘economic, intellectual, political and social - some of what we have is a little bit better than what it replaced’. ‘Under Ply Wood’ by Thomas Dylan is concerned largely with the negatives and may be considered by some to be destructive. It serves then to stimulate a constructive response. 䢇

This Ply Wood is not the stuff of architectural dreams. We are not talking elegant grids, beautiful veneers, clever detailing. This ply is the crappy, tacky type; the type that disintegrates into thin wrinkled layers, corrugating in Welsh clamminess; it is the kind used for forlorn estate agent signs, for boarding up the dejected, disintegrating sections of our urban existence; those cheerless places that attract the ‘silicone titted’ descendants of Polly Garter and those distant relations of Organ Morgan driven to scratch the perennial itch. In this adaptation of ‘Under Milk Wood’, the darkness evoked by its characters trapped in their narrow community is substituted by the murky, paradoxical forces that shape and mis-shape our contemporary urban fabric. And it is done with huge relish and vivid Dylanesque poetic imagery. iiiiiiThe context is an ‘appalling, sprawling seaside town’, a ‘city built on the sand’ with its ‘trashy waterside apartments’ and its ‘outer city wastelands’; its ‘underclass in the underpass’, its ‘Llywelyn Glyndwr buses owned by a French multi-national’. It is the time of ‘globalisation and privatisation while proclaiming selfdetermination’; it is the moment the ‘EU bandwagon crashed into the gravy train’. At its heart lies a new arts centre, once seen as an iconic catalyst for regeneration, now descended inexorably into depressing, architectural incoherence – a civic bankruptcy that surely stands in problematic counterpoint to the financial bankruptcy of big-name, big-money arts centres like Zaragoza. How up to the minute can you get? It was an evening of sparkling pyrotechnics. Ideas, language and visual imagery collide to illuminate the ‘coal-black, bible-black’ darkness of our impotence and show us that our hope for the future lies in our unrepressible creativity. Bravo! Encore? 䢇

Gareth Jones

First Voice: Bob Croydon Second Voice: Jonathan Vining Female Voice: Gwenda Williams Posh Voice: Richard Weston Professor of Painting: Wayne Forster Interjecting Voice: Malcolm Parry. The evening's reading was dedicated to the memory of Brian Hibbard (1946 -2012) 'actor, singer and all round great bloke'.

Michael Fleetwood 'Under Ply Wood' was performed on 21 June 2012 at the Birt Acres Lecture Theatre, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff.

Photo of performance: Samuel Vining Artwork: Bob Croydon


touchstones... schools of thought Following years of leading the multi-disciplinary courses at UWE and batting strongly in Portland Place and SCHOSA for diverse access routes into architectural education, with the RIBA stepping back from examining Part 1 students, Richard Parnaby has very recently moved into a key strategic position as vice-chair of ARB. He is now actively involved in campaigning groups seeking to radically rethink architectural education. In line with this sort of thinking, leaders from top interior architecture degree courses have been flirting with the thought of seeking ARB recognition to ensure their students who want to go on to RIBA Part 2 after a minimum of one year out, do not have to pay over £1,200 for 1 the privilege. Fascinatingly, Wales’s second architecture school at the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth (left) runs its Part 2 Professional Diploma in Architecture course without RIBA recognition, having gained ‘European notification’ that RIBA oversight is not required. ARB recognition is sufficient. With an 18 month course with no vacations and an innovative teaching format of one week every month of on-site 24/7 teaching in the magnificent WISE building, with then three weeks each month away to share their time between employment and academic work, CAT is certainly pushing the educational envelope in more ways than one. 3 CAT must be able to claim one of the finest architectural environments for teaching architecture in the UK. On top of that students have on the teaching team its two principal creators, David Lea and Pat Borer. What was that about an enmeshing of practice and academia that appears to so exercise practitioners? With fees covering all food and lodging in the fine environs of WISE, and with a site devoted to hands-on building research, it is difficult to see how one could improve on the formula, unless one wanted to return to pupillage of the Soane variety. 䢇

viva la resistenza! Jonathan Vining writes: What a privilege it was to be invited to hear Luigi Snozzi talk at London Metropolitan University School of Architecture and Spatial Design on 10 May. The eighty year old Swiss – one of the last great modernists – gave a two-hour tour de force lecture translated in real time by senior lecturer Daniel Serafimovski. Snozzi’s visit was hosted by Diploma Unit 5 and he also opened the same night a small and delightful exhibition of the students’ work on three city architects: Wren, Plečnik and Snozzi himself, following the unit’s visit to Monte Carasso. Famous for the aphorisms that he wrote in the early 1970s on which part of the lecture was based – such as ‘nothing needs to be invented; everything needs to be reinvented’; too much analysis, you end up without a project’; ‘architecture won’t enable you to make a revolution; a revolution won’t enable you to make architecture; both are necessary’ – he showed a series of geographical, urban and territorial 2 projects from the last fifteen years that propose s o l u tions for the development of the contemporary city. These included his Metro Polis project, Holland (2001-03), Colli Euganei Park, Padua, Italy (2004) and an urban extension of Via Montereale in Pordenone, Italy (2002). All are worth looking up, and reward study. The Dutch ‘Deltametropolis’, in particular, is an extraordinary proposition for


a 30m high structure for a rapid transit system circling the country and uniting a series of existing and proposed automomous cities with an open, landscaped space at its core. Its intention to create an infrastructure that forms a network of linked settlements to develop commerce, culture and mobility (rather than a road and railway system, like ours, inherited from its original purpose of emptying the nation of its wealth) and of physically controlling the expansion of cities (so that they do not grow into each other) may be the antithesis of the current praxis of urban planning, but they are of relevance to us today given the emerging proposals for urban-fringe housing developments around Cardiff, the recommendations to create two ‘city regions’ in south Wales and, of course, all the issues raised in the WSA’s ‘Heads of the Valleys’ project. (see p.25) Perhaps we need the sort of radical visions that someone like Snozzi could provide to catalyse our creation of the new, more meaningful spatial plan called for in the leader. Who’s up for organising a symposium? 䢇

slumming it for sustainability In 1999 TS published a piece entitled ‘The Ecology of Elegance’. Its intent was clear in the intro. ‘Influential the world over, Wales is justifiably proud of Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology; but is it really setting the pace architecturally?’ The answer was implicit in the question. The thrust of the analysis was that in the UK there seemed to be an unhealthy correlation between a sort of hair shirt, makedo-and-mend, self-build aesthetic and the designing of ecological architecture - an ‘architecture without architects’ of the Bernard Rudofsky variety. This was unlikely to endear itself to architectural students. Was architectural elegance impossible? Shouldn’t CAT give a lead? Thirteen years on from that article, Peter Harper, one of the founders of the term ‘alternative technology’ wrote an essay for the recent AT@40 event at the Architectural Association. ‘So for better or worse’, he wrote, alternative technology’ … was widely understood to mean simple, improvisatory, heedless of appearance, modest in scale, experimental, low-cost, user-friendly, not particularly efficient, and using readily-available materials, natural or scavenged. It was essentially the technology of a refugee camp or a post-Holocaust community.” To make architecture, of course, takes a long time. David Lea and Pat Borer have absolutely proved TS wrong by their award-winning WISE building at CAT with a Diploma in Architecture course installed at its heart. But now that’s complete, the UK media mood music seems back with where CAT began almost 40 years ago. Kevin McCloud, the Prince of Wales, Stewart Brand and so many others are marvelling at the make-do-and-mend magic, as they see it, of the slums of Mumbai. Supposedly this should be planning and architecture’s new learning ground, where architecture is in the hands of the people and with not an architect in sight (except for those prowling in the wings who want to remove them and redevelop). Is this just sloppy, recession-chic, thinking? While suggesting such a model is outrageous in terms of the appalling insanitariness of the almost non-existent sewage infrastructure, we may all need to reflect on Mumbai’s lessons if we are to really ensure equity across the globe in an era of climate change. Slumming it in style with cunningly low-cost but robustly designed infrastructure may have been the CAT model of 1975, and possibly it still has something to say about how we might be in 2075. So where does architecture fit into that? 䢇


1+3 Patrick Hannay 2 Sketch/note Jonathan Vining



While Britain is littered with investor-hungry, often banal student accommodation, little creative thinking goes into designing schemes that balance the tensions between permanent residents and the transient. Rebecca Cook’s scheme for Falmouth from the CAT Diploma in Architecture course, tackles the challenge

town and gown

Falmouth and Penryn are two towns that have merged physically. The population in 2008 was 31,300. They have quickly become student towns, with a growing university campus situated above Penryn. This has strengthened the vibrant, cultural atmosphere existing in Falmouth as the students keep the place alive in winter unlike other tourist locations. However, property is expensive, with families looking to find £300,000 to £500,000 for a large detached house with gardens and harbour views. Additionally, the rise in student numbers has put big pressures on the housing stock, and the council and locals are greatly concerned by the implications this will have for permanent residents. The student population in 2011 was 2,300. Student population in 2016 could be 5,000. The scheme needed to provide additional student accommodation, while still giving priority to the housing demand of the permanent inhabitants. Social model The overarching philosophy is that as human beings we can learn from each other in all aspects of living, above and beyond the conventional idea of the education system. Students have a great deal of lifelearning to do when they are super-implanted into a foreign town, and if there are strong permanent roots onto which they can attach to, then this could provide a nurturing environment from which a student can find not only independence but also responsibility for others and the environment around them. The social model proposed is that a family can purchase one of the houses on the site to live in, and part of the package is a garden and two student annexe flats. The family rents out the annexe flats to the two students and in return gains an income from which they can pay a mortgage (for example). The ground floor of their house offers flexible space for enterprise or an additional annexe for an elderly member of the family. The model ensures the year-round inhabitants have a permanent neighbourhood of families into which the transient student can attach in the annexe buildings. The family is responsible for collecting rent from the two students, and through STU DEN T AN NEX E

the nature of the shared courtyard and spaces, hopefully can connect socially too. Site and environment Falmouth is a pretty town, defined by Victorian terraces and some large seafront houses, with plenty of new-build on t h e outskirts and small clusters of modern harbour flats and houses. SITE PLAN The site is a central, harbour front car-park in Falmouth town located off Church Street, the main shopping street in Falmouth. There have been many speculative mixedused proposals for the site as it is prime central development land. The site looks over Falmouth marina and is north-east facing. Prevailing winds come from the south-west and occasionally the south-east. The student annexe Inspiration for the student bedsits were taken from the Norwegian ‘hems’, which translates as ‘beds built in a small loftroom.’ A main entrance leads from the open-plan living/dining space into a shared courtyard. The courtyard has one open side that leads to the garden entrance to the main family house, and the opposing end has large timber sliding gates. At 27 sqm each, the bedsits can accommodate a built-in bed with cupboards above and sliding drawers beneath. A kitchen with built-in cupboards and timber drying shelves partially obscure the windows out to the courtyard, similar to the architecture of Wench Selmer. There is a small bathroom and a flexible living area with built-in bookshelves. The student annexes have vertical Douglas fir timber cladding to the exterior, pressure treated to resist fire spread.

The family house The family house is situated on Falmouth’s harbour front and has spectacular views across the river Fal to Carrick Roads and Flushing. The dwelling has been designed to maximise the privacy of a family, while still allowing flexibility in the living arrangements and opportunities to enjoy outside amenity space. A protected stairwell travels up one side of FAM ILY H OUS E the home, and the main family accommodation is situated on the first, second, and third floors. Bedrooms are on the darker first floor, and the main living space is on the second floor, with a large north-east glazed protrusion oversailing the main structure allowing views across the harbour. The second floor is open plan, while the first floor has closed rooms. The ground floor is designed to allow a flexible range of uses, such as another annexe, shop, café, office, artist’s studio or another extension to the main family accommodation. 䢇


One from north Wales, one from the south. In contrasting two examples of early twentieth century housing, Simon Unwin reminds us how far we have strayed from the essence of architecture of the home

modesty blaze 1



RHIWBINA GARDEN VILLAGE The previous issue of Touchstone reported the publication of Adam Voelcker’s book Herbert Luck North. North worked in north Wales during the early twentieth century. He was the architect of a ‘village’ (houses and a few community buildings) called The Close at Llanfairfechan, where he built a house for himself too. What might house builders and local authorities learn from looking back at North’s work and that of his contemporaries? Issues addressed a hundred years may be relevant to the RIBA’s current Homewise campaign and to the remit of the Future Homes Commission. Certainly the current government, as well as the occupant of Clarence House, have occasionally expressed a (maybe nostalgic) desire to return to Edwardian values. The Close is broadly contemporaneous with, though not part of, the Garden City Movement instigated by Ebenezer Howard at the end of the nineteenth century. Probably the best (though incomplete) example of the movement in Wales is Rhiwbina Garden Village on the outskirts of Cardiff, begun almost a hundred years ago in 1913. There are superficial similarities between Rhiwbina and The Close. They both use that white painted, roughcast render, those steep-gabled slate roofs with high chimneys, those small-paned windows, those porches and bays… comprising that instantly recognisable Arts and Crafts ‘vernacular’ developed by C F A Voysey and others for Edwardian private houses, and codified by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin in the early twentieth century to give tangible form to Howard’s dream.

But there are significant differences between North’s scheme and Rhiwbina too: in layout, procurement and how they were managed. As Voelcker informs us, North owned land at Llanfairfechan on which he enjoyed designing and building comfortable houses for middle class customers. It was the architect’s dream: he was client and architect with the resources to be developer too. To some extent, and certainly acknowledging its charm, The Close was a personal project for North, seasoned by profit, which produced attractive bourgeois villas in the guise of country cottages.



Philosophical differences Rhiwbina, on the other hand, was philosophically different. It was born of the Garden City mission to provide dwellings for workers who did not have the financial means to buy a house of their own, to help them escape the cramped unsanitary conditions of industrial Victorian cities and to enjoy a comfortable and healthy, if modest, life in fresh air and surrounded by greenery. Rhiwbina (however bourgeois it too may



1 Simon Unwin 2 Crown Copywright: RCAHMW 4 From the collection of the NMRW © Adam Voelcker


have turned out to be) was launched by philanthropy and, for around half a century, run as a cooperative, with rents kept low and maintenance provided communally. The garden village was inspired by that Edwardian faith that a mark of civilisation was to allow quality of life for everyone precedence over the bare and often brutal commercial imperative of profit. Space standards were set according to a sort of ‘Goldilocks’ principle set out by Parker and Unwin in their 1902 series of essays entitled The Art of Building a Home: rooms should be neither too small (too cramped to live in) nor too big (too arduous for people without servants to keep clean and tidy) but ‘just right’. (By comparison with rooms in some houses being built a century later, garden village rooms, though not large, seem modestly generous.) The layouts of The Close and Rhiwbina are philosophically different too. North simply divided his land on a south-facing slope with roughly parallel hedges marking out sizeable plots along a zig-zag road, each the separate territory of an individual house. His houses face the sun and have generous gardens. Rhiwbina by comparison was (if it had ever been completed) to have had a more formal, almost Beaux Arts, layout – a realisation of those famous diagrams in Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow but with local topography taken into account. Whereas North’s customers had their own independent ‘mini-parks’ (like country houses), the houses and gardens of the citizens of Rhiwbina were joined as pairs and collective groups arranged (orthogonally rather than picturesquely) to define avenues and shared greens (to be used, no doubt for maypoles, Christmas trees, and jubilee

celebrations). The Rhiwbina houses were given their own modest gardens for residents to enjoy that idyllic pastime of growing vegetables, fruit and flowers and for children to play safely – but theirs was not isolated or ‘separatist’ individuality; it was an individuality framed within the structure of a spatially organised community, which was to include civic amenities and communal spaces. This structure was expressed in a shared architectural ‘language’ with a vocabulary and grammar derived from a synthesis of ‘classical’ and ‘vernacular’, ‘human’ formality and ‘natural’ irregularity, ‘temple’ and ‘cottage’. A (maybe characteristically British) balance between individuality and community was framed in architectural form. Differences and similarities The underlying ideological differences between The Close and Rhiwbina Garden Village (the latter a representative of a much larger movement that spread across Britain and Europe) were profound and significant. But these two settlements do have deeper similarities too. As well as their shared ‘style’ (if that is the right word to use) the similarities include a sensibility of the essential relationship between architecture and the people whose lives it frames. In both (and this may be a lesson of value to those who philosophise about how houses should be built now – princes and prime 5 One of the diagrams from Garden Cities of Tomorrow

facing page: 1, 2 Rhiwbina Garden Village and The Close, Llanfairfechan share a simple but subtle architectural ‘language’ derived from the Arts and Crafts. Notice how much effort was put into reducing the apparent scale of the houses, to make them more human.

6, 7 Images of ‘domestic places’ at Rhiwbina and 8, 9, The Close. It is important to this architecture that people are treated as ‘ingredients’ rather than ‘spectators’. Although there are no people in these photographs, it is evident that priority was given to making places for domestic life – inside, outside and in-between.

facing page: 3, 4 Site plans of Rhiwbina Garden village and The Close, Llanfairfechan. They were both philosophically different. Rhiwbina Garden Village was never completed. Its layout was more formal. Houses and gardens were joined as pairs and collective groups were arranged to define avenues and shared greens. Herbert North at The Close divided his land into building plots with roughly parallel hedges. Each house had their own independent ‘mini-parks’ (like country houses) 8




6, 7 Simon Unwin 8 ,9 Crown Copywright: RCAHMW

9 13


ministers not excluded) people are included as vital ingredients of architecture rather than consigned to the role of spectator (or worse, ‘customer’). Architecture was to be lived in not just looked at, or bought as a commodity. This sensibility informed style and scale, and drove the ways the houses were to make accommodating places for domestic purposes. According to the Arts and Crafts ethos: a window seat should be a pleasant place to sit reading a book or the morning paper; an inglenook a warm place for talking to friends on a winter’s evening; a veranda a sunny or shaded ‘inbetween’ place for chatting to passing neighbours; a porch shelter for a waiting visitor, for removing muddy boots and leaving an umbrella to drip… (not merely a vestigial ornament applied to decorate a façade). These domestic places (p.13) were considered essential to the comfortable house, whether for workers or the middle classes. (Indeed it might be argued that the Garden City Movement sought to help rid British society of the curse of class.) Our retrospective view, back over the twentieth century, is hugely distorted by the intervening Modern Movement. Le Corbusier’s cry that ‘the styles are a lie’, the espousal of the flat roof and large glass walls as symbols of modernity, the proclamation of ‘function’ as the prime motivation of architecture… condition how we evaluate everything that came before. Even though Le Corbusier himself acknowledged the Garden City as a precursor of his own Ville Radieuse, we tend to see settlements such as The Close and Rhiwbina Garden Village as products of romantic nostalgia for an idyllic rural lifestyle (that probably never existed). But it is arguable that North as well as Parker and Unwin (perhaps the latter more so than the former) wanted, like the Modernists, to avoid ‘style’. What they sought was as simple, direct, honest a way of creating humane, livable, unpretentious houses as they could manage. It did not occur to them that pitched roofs and small paned windows might be considered stylistic elements; (though they obviously knew that they were neither Classical columns, entablatures and pediments, nor Gothic gargoyles, mock spires and pointed windows with stained glass). Working before the First World War they did not know about flat roofs and glass walls but they too rejected the vanity and pomposity of Victorian stylistic architecture. (I suspect they would also have rejected the preoccupation with cosmetic detail and irrationally irregular (artfully picturesque) composition found in the Prince of Wales’s instigated housing scheme at Coed d’Arcy near Neath). (right) Regionalism versus timelessness North (though not Parker and Unwin) has been credited with employing (or even developing) a ‘regional style’ of architecture in his houses; but (as Voelcker acknowledges)


there is nothing indigenously north Walian about the houses in The Close, other than their slate roofs (and there are Welsh slate roofs all over the world). It is true that North, with his friend Harold Hughes, spent a great deal of time researching The Old Cottages and Farmhouses of Snowdonia, producing a much loved little book of that name. (They also later published another on The Old Churches of Snowdonia.) But I suggest that what North was enchanted by in these buildings, and what he sought to emulate as an architect, was less a regional architectural identity (which is an unrealistic aim for any individual architect – surely regional identities come about unselfconsciously by the contributions of many) and more their simple, direct, honest, unpretentious and commodious way of doing architecture. For him this involved using readily available (often, but not necessarily, 'local') materials, in ways that could readily be managed by available craftspeople working with their hands in traditional ways. Local architectural identity may well be a product of this process (wherever in the world it occurs) but it was not the primary aim of North nor of Parker and Unwin. They sought the timeless and universal virtues of modesty, simplicity and generosity that transcend parochial concerns about regionalism or nationalism and the uncompromising commercial imperative to maximize profit. This is what identifies them as precursors (or pioneers) of Modernism. These are virtues (as the RIBA’s Homewise Campaign implies) we could do well to revive now. Real dreams When I was a lecturer in the Welsh School of Architecture I would occasionally send students to study Rhiwbina Garden Village. From its inception the village had a halt on the line to Coryton, so I would suggest they travel by train. I remember one reported back: ‘You leave the station and find yourself in dreamland’, declaring it an architecture based in fantasy. I suppose I felt the same when I went to visit Herbert North’s home near The Close some years ago. But if these schemes represent a dream, it is clearly not an impossible one. (And after all, the purpose of architecture is surely to make dreams real.) But it is one we seem to find difficult to emulate a hundred years on. Land may seem more precious now, energy more expensive, the motor car more ubiquitous, but surely those universal virtues of modesty, simplicity and generosity can still produce c o m m o d i ous, unpretentious settlements where individuals and communities might thrive. This would be a mark of our claim to be civilized. There is a rare and welcome touch of civilisation in the achievement of Adam Voelcker’s book too. Published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in association with the RSAW, the very production of this erudite but accessible, well-illustrated and beautifully produced book reminds us that the concept of ‘the academy’ is one of fundamental cultural importance, transcending the rather managerial and commercial preoccupations of p r e s e n t - day u n i versities. For their modesty and generosity too, I should like to thank all those involved in the production of this book. 䢇 2

Simon Unwin is Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of Dundee. For many years he was a lecturer in the Welsh School of Architecture. He lives in Rhiwbina Garden Village. He also catalogued over ninety early twentieth century planned housing schemes across Wales, including ‘The Close’ , for Cadw back in 1990. To date he has published five books on architecture, including ‘Analysing Architecture’ (Routledge, third edition 2009) and ‘Twenty Buildings Every Architect Should Understand’ (Routledge 2010). He is presently working on producing a series of eBooks entitled ‘Secrets of Architecture’ , the first of which – on ‘Skara Brae in Orkney’ – is available for iPad from the iBookstore.


1,2 Patrick Hannay

Undeservedly ignored in the recent RIBA Regional Awards, the Old Town Dock housing project in Newport by Powell Dobson Architects raises the bar for all future urban volume house building in Wales. Wayne Forster reports

homes in the dock 3

In the second half of the twentieth century, and certainly from the 1970s, the emphasis on housing shifted from the suburban to the redevelopment of older urban areas, often abandoned through years of urban outward expansion. Throughout most of this period largescale housing, especially publicly-funded, has been shaped and remains largely sustained by what Peter Rowe has identified as ‘three complementary processes, a technological way of making things, a technocratic way of managing things, and a technical way of interpreting people and their world’ 1. All these things seem to be simultaneously in train at the time of the Powell Dobson Architects’ (PDA) inception of the Old Town Dock housing development in Newport. The site is ‘brownfield’ urban and the scheme was conceived against the background of yet another drive toward prefabrication, or modern methods of construction (MMC) and the use of standardized plans or pattern books based on prescribed space standards. The unquestioning adherence to standard plans known as Design Quality Requirements (DQR) had been the norm for most registered social landlords (RSLs) in Wales, but the promotion of off-site construction techniques was relatively new. Additionally, and very much in the foreground in 2008, was the ambition to design and build sustainably. The scheme was one of twenty-two nominated by the then Welsh Assembly Government as ‘pathfinder’ projects to test and learn from. Adopting the Code for Sustainable Homes, schemes would reach levels of 4 to 6 (6

being the highest). Old Town Dock was to be the largest and most ambitious of these pathfinder projects. Fairlake Properties, a subsidiary of the Seren Group of RSLs, working in partnership with Newport City Council proposed, in support of the Welsh Assembly Government’s target (as it was then) to reach carbon zero by 2011. ‘The design of the works is expected to go beyond the Code for Sustainable Homes level 4 with an aspiration to achieve level 6’, it stated 2. In the event, this was adjusted to level 5. At the time, although a few single demonstration houses had been built to these levels in the UK, there were few precedents of this scale from which the design team could learn. Space, place and people The brief also stated: ‘It is the partnership’s vision that the Old Town Dock development should be seen as an exemplar affordable housing scheme within Wales, the UK and Europe… It is absolutely critical that new development is of the highest quality in terms of design and function’ 3. The ‘quality’ that many briefs allude to is often perfunctory and little explanation or guidance is given. One of the headlines of ‘A model design guide for Wales residential development’ reinforcing the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment to good design is to ‘create places with the needs of people in mind, which are distinctive and respect local character’ 4. Place is also an elusive concept but here, the explicit suggestion is that by closely reflecting local forms of construction, habits of dwelling and other related socio-cultural patterns, the bland or hysterical referential forms of much contemporary housing, may be replaced by a ‘common vitality’. Growing up in postwar Newport, Pillgwenlly was notorious for

many things – among them was a palpable sense of community welded in the cheek-by-jowl terraces. At Old Town Dock, in their early design work, the architects bypassed direct reference to past institutions or elements of the local context in favour of a more rational pursuit of the potential of housing typology married to principles of passive design. There is little evidence in the conceptual or final drawings of even an abstracted ‘text’ of local references, but early sketches do illustrate an ambition for spatial intimacy and potential for meeting neighbours in the spaces around dwellings. Resisting the temptation to follow the recent adjacent precedents along the Usk of peninsular object blocks at 90° to the river bank, the stage 1 master plan is adjusted to show east-west streets to ensure porosity through the proposed neighbourhood from the existing streets of Pill to the river edge. This is combined with the very real need to find a rational and lean basis for high density and a sense of community with ‘correct’ orientation for solar gain. ‘Wrap up warm and face south’ is harnessed to ideas of street and court all dressed in modernism – albeit softened in the manner of the ‘Other Tradition’ 5 by the use of contrasting materials carefully balanced and juxtaposed to define function and form in response to site. Balancing regulatory compliance of programmatic standardization in the form of prescribed layouts and space standards with ideas of individual expression and spatial flexibility, the architects have boldly probed this, principally, through a determination to link inside and outside. The former qualities are undoubtedly required in terms of permanence, practicality and probably costs, but a measure of the latter is also essential for inhabitation and environmental delight. Here it is clear that the architects used ‘type’ not as a thing to copy or imitate 4


3, 4 Andrew Hazard Photography





Typical 2 bed house




Typical 3 bed house 1 Typical 2 bed houses. 2 Final layout retains physical and visual connections to River Edge. 3 Coherence and complexity. Integrated active and passive energy measures.


Typical 4 bed house




APARTMENT BLOCK A typical upper roof floor plan


2.4 Courtesy PDP Architects

completely but as something that may serve as a general rule that may be manipulated creatively. The sunspaces to the apartments add another dimension to dwelling by linking inside and outside and buffering climate. The composition of the facades is a skilful balance of coherence and complexity. This is not merely formal facadism as the bay windows articulate and animate the spaces in the foreground and background. Visiting on a warm sunny afternoon they were either zipped or completely unzipped indicating inhabitation. The same goes for the notion of the piano-nobile attached to the first floor terrace on the town houses and potentially exploiting views to the river. Rigid regulations on space use had to be worked around to achieve this obvious principle. These concepts rarely feature in ‘affordable’ housing and seem to be only available in upmarket schemes such as Accordia in Cambridge, although Bill Gething formerly of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios made a reasonable fist of this at Lime Tree Square, Street, Somerset 6. Detail design and the construction process The need to reduce complexity in the design of buildings in order to build quickly and economically has also been an imperative of recent construction. Simplification, repetition and standardization lend themselves to the ‘production’ of housing. A partnering approach, using the JCT Constructing Excellence Contract, from the outset with the involvement of a full design team led to a collaborative design process with full support from all members of the team. Early ‘second stage’ design sketches investigate modularity and volumetric potential. With the contractor, Leadbitter, and its supply chain in formal and contractual partnership from early on, a prefabricated, panellised approach to


construction emerged. While schemes to lower Code levels had been built by Leadbitter and its supply chain, this was the first to this higher standard. A well-constructed fabric is essential to achieve level 5. House building, largely craft based for centuries,- now relies on engineering tolerances and manufacturing processes and the operatives need to know why it is important.

of construction. (85% of the construction waste was diverted from landfill). The traditional British architectural ‘niceties’ of attention to detail are replaced in this way of doing things by emphasis on system and process, and this is noticeable in some aspects of building. While the TECU copper window bays were admirably not ‘cost engineered’ out of the scheme, some of the early

Code was included within site inductions for all operatives and ‘toolbox talks’ ensured that new techniques were understood. These emphasised the importance of minimisation of waste and accuracy

work of the architects in collaboration with specialist suppliers finessing detail was lost as collaborators were replaced by more economic competitors. The abandonment of home-grown hardwood cladding to the houses in favour of a more ‘durable’ composite substitute is mystifying in the light of the over hundred year old timber wharves on the nearby River Usk.



One-offs and mainstreaming The accusation often levelled at pathfinder or prototypical projects is the fact that they are costly oneoffs that cannot be ‘mainstreamed’. Take away the cost up-lift from Code level 4 to 5 and fabric costs are comparable apart from perhaps the windows, which are to standards and material that ought to be at least the norm rather than the exception for housing. In terms of sustainability alone there are many things to be learnt from this project and to be taken


3,4 Andrew Hazard Photography 5 Courtesy PDP Architects


forward (for more technical information on this, see http: // and download the ‘Dwelling publication’. Putting the Code for Sustainable Homes to one side, the challenges of meeting the new devolved Building Regulations will ensure that much that has been pioneered on this scheme, particularly the collaborative process, will become the norm. It is clear that the client and the design and construction team have acquired a technical know-how and it is true that post-2008 stringencies will demand that this will have to be applied within tighter financial constraints. More critically, however, is that the scheme serves as a benchmark for other aspects of new housing. It is clearly recognizable as place, a segment of town, of Pill, rather than something set apart. It is a shame that the spatial organizational and three-dimensional coherence of the scheme has not been applied throughout the redevelopment of the western riverbank bank. It may have to carry the ‘new project’ label of other ‘interventions’ along the Usk, but over time it seems to have a good chance of becoming more distinct and admired. Tenants speak warmly of the benefits of the sun spaces and how the roof terraces to the houses add a new dimension to dwelling and how they have got to know each other – either directly or through the concierge – a critical part of the place. While it may be said that a deeper historical and cultural analysis of the wider context, as at Lime Square, may have been paid further dividend, the scheme’s underlying structure of regulating themes – design with climate to an appropriate scale and grain, intelligent application of type with the inhabitant in mind – is of real significance in terms of potential exemplars for housing in Wales, and anywhere else for that matter. The architects’ attitude to a ‘passive’ and selective environment is especially interesting. Here the passive measures are the generators of much of what is good about Old Town Dock as a place to live but probably superfluous in terms of contributing points to achieve Code. In the final analysis it seems that good modern housing depends less on the three technical complementary processes identified by Rowe and more on intelligent design plus inhabitants who are prepared to embrace their new dwellings with confidence and enthusiasm and who are prepared to become acquainted with new places and technologies. Undeservedly ignored in the recent RIBA Regional Awards Old Town Dock exceeds national and meets European standards. Job done! Postscript There has been much publicity about space standards in housing in recent months 7. The consensus is that we need more space not less,




and rooms should be more spacious. Statistics suggest that while we build lots of rooms in houses they are amongst the smallest in Europe 8. DQR protects space standards but it also inhibits possibilities. The draft Housing White Paper for Wales promises a review alongside finding innovative ways to fund new housing and to help the private sector to bridge the gap between new standards. The underlying fear is that this will prompt new space standards in favour of cost reduction rather than promote a flexible approach to spatial design in housing that enables architects like PDA to exercise their skills in achieving good places within which to dwell. Just look at the volume house builders’ developments on the opposite bank of the Usk to see what a new ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of standards could spawn. 䢇


house smart As Touchstone goes to press, one practice in Wales is gripping the edge of its seat. Pentan Partnership (see also p. 3-5) was the only practice from Wales to reach the last six in The Sunday Times British Homes Awards open competition to design a ‘smarthome’ of the future. The competition supported by the BRE, RIBA ,The New Homes Marketing Board and CEDIA had 200 entries, with Sunand Prasad as the chair of the jury picking the shortlist (see Votes have been cast by the public and the result is to be announced late September. Although you cannot vote now, you can still see the shortlisted schemes with a smart video. Pentan would do Wales proud to chalk up a win, but even if it doesn’t, we plan to look closer at it in the next issue of Touchstone, along with ecological terraces by Loyn and Co for Gwalia and another eco-terrace competition winner by Ash Sakula. 䢇

Wayne Forster is deputy head of the Welsh School of Architecture where his role centres on activities in academic leadership in design, teaching and learning and practice based research through the School’s Design Research Unit Wales (DRU-w) which was set up to pursue research through the medium of design. References 1 Rowe.Peter, ‘Modernity and Housing’ MIT Press 1993 2 Architectural Design Brief. Affordable Housing. The Old Town Dock. Newport 2008. Fairlake, Newport City Council, Newport Unlimited. p2 3 Ibid p 2 4 ‘A model design guide for Wales residential development’ prepared by LDA Design for Planning Officers Society of Wales with the support of Welsh Assembly Government. March 2005 p 6 5 St John Wilson. Colin, ‘The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture’ 2007 in which the author reveals a modernist tradition in which architecture is not autonomous of site – exemplified in much of the work of Alvar Aalto 6 Lime Street Square, Street, Somerset by Fielden Clegg was completed in 2009 with 138 homes including 30 for social rent, built for Knightstone Housing Association. Housing Design Awards 2010 - Overall Winner. 7 ‘The way we live now’: what people need and expect from homes’. IPSOS Mori for the RIBA 2012 8

flemish flame ‘In 1993 a redraft of the Belgian constitution granted the Flemish community a significant level of political autonomy.’ So starts a piece by Ellis Woodman in the Architectural Review of April 2012 p.27. Belgium, so often the butt of Euro-jokes could certainly show the public sector in Wales a thing or two. Importantly, it has a government chief architect who, since 1998, has run on behalf of the communes a well-oiled and non-wasteful architectural competition system for the majority of public buildings. As a result, Flanders has produced according to Woodman ‘a world class generation of architects’ because they have a public body with judgement that is prepared to take risks and encourage a younger generation of architects, while in parallel ensuring they are

Mariners Quay credits list Client: Fairlake Properties; Neil Barber Client’s Agent: David Langdon; Paul Edwards Architects: Powell Dobson Architects ; Anne-Marie Smale, Bernadette Kinsella M&E and code assessment: Hoare Lee; Wynne Harris Civil and Structural Engineer: RVW Consulting Ltd; Simon Walrond Landscape/Ecology: Anthony Jellard Associates; Anthony Jellard Contractor: Leadbitter; Stuart Jones


1 Andrew Hazard Photography 2 Pentan Partnership 3-7 Patrick Hannay 8-10 Mike Gove


always up against one international competitor in groups of five competing practices. Let’s hope in these straitened times a small team from DCfW and Constructing Excellence in Wales can be asked to report on the system before too many of the Welsh School of Architecture’s talented young architects drift back over the border to London town. It would be money well spent. TS is looking to report on one of the Sergison Bates competition winning projects for homes for the elderly in Belgium, in the next issue. 䢇

that defies the term ‘rural’. Would burying the cables underground assuage the protesters? Unlikely, as their ire would simply switch to the turbines. Would creating a Wales-only national grid soften the blow – what a sad day it would be, if that sort of narrow-minded nationalism held sway! Could we harness all that community energy to power a national debate about downsizing our materialism, ridding ourselves of supersized cars and super-size food deals and the ‘three-for-two’ culture, and in turn radically upsize our insulation of homes, leading to a national programme of cooperatively-owned, smallscale renewable power generation, in Wales’s rural communities… Well now, that really would be a tipping point in honour of the loss of Capel Celyn. It wouldn’t do much for the 86% of urban dwellers in Wales, on behalf of whom Welsh Government needs to holds its nerve, but at least beauty and the beast might have found a rural resolve. 䢇

capel celyn replay


Extracting natural resources from Wales’s landscape has a turbulent history. Raw emotions tend to be at their rawest. While two hundred years of removing thousands of tenant farmers to allow early coal, limestone and iron ore extraction barely registers on the Welsh psyche, a single mention of Capel Celyn opens a deep wound. Of course the tenant farmers of south Wales had no political party to it’s all bats turn to in the early nineteenth century, whereas in 1965, north-west of It’s never good architectural practice to think of Bala in Gwynedd, sixtyregulations as constraining. The game is to absorb seven people (backed them creatively, and early on, in your strategic thinking. almost unanimously by That is not to deny that current architectural practice is Welsh MPs) were actually in danger of drowning under an ever rising flood of removed from the Afon Tryweryn valley after nine years box-ticking paperwork . of protest, and the village itself of Capel Celyn, with its Bats and newts, for many clients and architects, are twelve homes and farms, was subsequently drowned the last straw. This irritation, boiling over into disbelief, to make an 800 acre reservoir to serve Liverpool. Still to is not because these animals’ protected breeding this day, some dispute whether the water was actually habits cannot be written into the build/planning and needed. Few dispute that the action became a symbolic finance programming of the project, it is that there is tipping point for Wales to be granted its own Secretary utter inconsistency in advice and interpretation of the of State and Welsh Office by the Wilson government; EU-inspired regulations. and so began the long march towards the return of There are too few in-house county habitat Wales’s parliament. conservation officers, and the small numbers of outFifty years later and 45 miles south (according to side specialist consultants tend to have a monopoly, the AA route planner) there is another significant and in some cases an ill-informed stranglehold, on uprising, this time in Powys at Cefn Coch, as National inconsistent information and advice. No decent Grid announced its preferred location to site the architect really minds absorbing well thought-out alleged 20 acre substation to connect a potential demands that are consistent, but utter inconsistency is 870 wind turbines with a line of 47 metre high pylons bats. There needs to be a bat conference to create a to the national grid over the border in Shropshire. In level playing field. Gotham city here we come ... 䢇 May 2012, The Senedd in Cardiff Bay had faced its biggest ever public demonstration The pv pile up Montgomeryshire Against Pylons’ organisers claimed 8 1,500 attended. It is rare that a new, expensive technology benefits The ‘David versus Goliath’ sentiment is still strong. those with the fewest resources, but the massive Welsh The billboard language that splatters the countryside is Government ARBED programme with registered social blue with simplistic exaggeration where sadly the landlords (RSLs) installing photo-voltaic (PV) panels on merging of fear and fact have long since undermined reasonable debate. Small communities versus the 6 greater good; the quietness of smallholdings and small roads against the assault of big construction; single plot-holders against large landowners, small savings on energy bills versus big national subsidies to international utility companies ( as though Nuclear was a subsidy free option) and, on top of all that, the huge swathes of tenants’ roofs, is a wonderfully ferocious and unceasing on-shore wind farm debate. redistributive act. Some struggling to pay their utility The talk is of the industrialisation of the countryside – bills will hopefully have their electricity bills reduced despite the fact that within spitting distance of Cefn to almost zero. Coch is the absolutely massive, one hundred year old Tan y Foel Quarry, employing 30. The village itself has been blasted open by a style of house building and approach to s i t i n g

The RSL, one assumes, picks up any benefit of selling under-used generated capacity back to the grid, the income of which they can then reinvest in managing their services to tenants. The PV installations, on the whole, have been well managed in contrast to what you see in some private sector homes across Wales, where either through overselling PV installers or through owners’ greed, one is left with an ugly public domain where PVs are crammed onto every sloping surface available. The ultimate irony on the PV issue is in conservation areas, where contrary to that nomenclature, ecoconscious tenants or owners are sometimes denied the chance to use renewable energy to conserve nonrenewable fossil fuels. Maybe they should be renamed ‘conservative’ areas instead. 䢇

practising what you preach As Peter Buchanan recently remarked in his magnum AR opus: ‘many of today’s most accomplished buildings are designed by highly professional mainstream practices… these architects, not the avant-garde, constitute the leading edge of practice that other architects emulate and study.’ If we accept that there is still a huge amount of our built environment in which no architect has a hand, it is a brave architectural practice that locates itself in one of those zones, on a business park - that much abused term that has little real ‘park’ in it, and simply parks some cheaper rental locations for businesses watching their bottom line. This tends to be the home of the unthinking tin shed, the morose brick block with heavy plastic eaves section or the over-glazed showrooms. But not for all. When you first see end-on the current home of architects Stride Treglown in Ocean Park in Cardiff there is an intriguing tension of the familiar and unfamiliar. It has some of the palette of the shed and the showroom but assembles them in a way that lifts them out of that. It’s a relatively small and modest building that acts as an excellent vehicle for the green credentials the practice espouses, but equally unlike so much so-called ‘green’ architecture, it is utterly pleasant to inhabit, both for the visitor and the employees, in every part of it. Its slightly shifting plan and sectional geometry does all the things that Gunther Behnisch demonstrated so well in his work for schools. If this could be the sort of baseline architecture that every practice could aspire to lift itself above, without ransacking the client’s bank account and still delivering on time, we would be beginning to make a real mark. 䢇

10 4




touchstones... ides of march End of the tax year, out like a lion, in like a lamb: the end of March is always eventful - never more so for architecture in Wales than this year. After a decade at the forefront of the Design Commission for Wales, the two professors, Richard Parnaby and John Punter, came to the end of their ten-year tenure. Punter’s last major task has been to complete a ten-year overview of the Design Review Panel’s work. The conclusions of this will be critical to the future of building procurement and planning policy in Wales. As we went to press, the report was about to be put up on the DCfW website. Every architect should read it, and let’s hope clients and AMs do so too. Also departing is the ever calm and collected Cindy Harris, ex-Centre for Alternative Technology and Head of DCfW’s Design Review Service since 2004. In fifty years time we may look back and finally recognise how much all three changed the face of Wales for the better. 䢇

Thursday morning to discuss the submission of a revised scheme, the agents cancelled late the previous afternoon.’ The teeth are clearly leaving a mark. Congrats to the DCf W. 䢇

design review with teeth

There were those cynics who always poured scorn on Rhodri Morgan’s infamous promise of a ‘bonfire of the quangos’. They couldn’t wait to light the match. They never thought it would happen. The problem with fire is that it is indiscriminate, particularly in forests. So the Forestry Commission Wales (FCW), the Environment Agency Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) are in the merging-culling phase. These three bodies will become one. Why on earth agriculture is also not in that mix defies any sane logic if you are really talking about joined-up thinking for a sustainable Wales. But then land is still very much power and money, and the FCW knows that only too well, as it fears its currently very healthy business income will be leached out to support the new merged body. The FCW fought a fierce rearguard; more tribal protectionism maybe; it has very different pension arrangements. But whatever happens, everyone involved should be focused on retaining the wisdom, skills and experience of FCW’s people on the ground. The Welsh Government knows that collapsing the Welsh Development Agency the way it did some years ago, with all the expertise fleeing to retirement or outside consultancies, was utterly disastrous for Wales. The Welsh School of Architecture’s DRU-w with Steve Coombes’s ceaseless passion for a Wales-based timber

merger mania

Off piste there has been a lot of talk, even by design review panellists, of the Design Commission for Wales (DCfW) needing far more teeth. When it comes to the real shockers, so it is said, DCfW can give all the good advice they like, but if a local authority is minded to ignore them, for the sake of some scheme offering miserable, badly-paid part-time employment, they will simply say, ‘well it’s just the panel’s subjective opinion’. A classic of the genre is potentially the proposed 92 bedroom hotel with 80 new dwellings proposed at Pant Glas, Llanfynydd near Carmarthen, reviewed in February 2012 (see DCfW website for full report). The DCfW summarised their disbelief in a politely-worded, eight bullet point demolition of every aspect of this

time for a clutter tsar Well, we architects do try. Troughton McAslan did a fine job on Cardiff Central station’s main hall in 1999 by returning it to its original splendour, clearing out the decades of clutter that inevitably accrues like estuarial detritus after manager after manager incrementally

the grandeur of the hall through corralling all the necessary functions to their proper places And it’s not just Cardiff Central station either: on his way home, the Clutter Tsar could pop into the National Museum Cardiff and sort out the mess that’s been made of the entrance hall there … 䢇




‘timeshare’ project for Chinese tourists. Equally forceful indictments have come into the local planning office from other professional quarters. The agents for their Chinese client, the civil engineer property developers going by the rather telling but unfortunate name of Maxhard Ltd, have a tricky 3

installs yet more booths and retail opportunities. All the great UK station refurbishments of the 1990s learnt the lesson of keeping the retail urge under control for the sake of the travelling public and the romance of travel. But creeping clutter is back in force at Cardiff Central (see above). It began with housing the external cash machines the backs of which had to be covered in a giant M&S advert. Then came a necessary glazed lift to comply with universal design guidelines (they tried to design it as though it wasn’t there). But once you start you cannot resist. So the pasty vendor arrives, ticket vending machines appear, and the café chairs come further and further out. A railway information booth suddenly pops up. Of course, you could argue all this aids the travelling public, but it’s time for the broom again or, preferably, a master-planner’s eye to maintain


challenge. They need, so they say, to create an architecture that will fit any site the client alights upon in Canada, China, Germany or the UK. So this is the new International style Moderne, is it? (see above) Carmarthenshire County Council limply admitted at the review that they had only just received the environmental impact assessment, as though they really needed that to inform them that this scheme against any reasonable level of architectural judgement - should be one for the bin, or at least be sent back to the drawing board with the possible re-selection of a decent architect. But it seems the DCfW teeth are actually biting. The ‘Carmarthen Journal’ of 8 August p.25 had a cracking report on the scheme quoting the DCfW extensively. The project architect, Mr Evbuomwan, said: “the company is working with officers from Carmarthenshire County Council to amend the plans [and] there was no timetable for when they would be resubmitted”. But Graham Noakes, the Senior Development Manager, answering TS’s request for information wrote: “The consideration of the planning application has been in abeyance for some time while the agents revisit the proposal to address the concerns of the local planning authority. Although a meeting was arranged for last

architecture should remind us that all these seemingly distant battles of rural bodies are actually on all the doorsteps to our architectural future. No doubt some architects would not spill crocodile tears over the loss of the CCW. It is clear that Wales needs to get beyond old countryside versus urban tribalisms. The city as organic farm, the rural as urban village: somehow we need to get beyond protectionist mindsets that relishes in ‘no’, in order to reach a more creative vision of ‘yes we can’ but with judgement. But the danger is that this anti-protectionist mantra will mean that another merger, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHM) with Cadw and CyMAL (Museums Archives and Libraries Wales) will also go unheeded by architects until it is too late. As the magnificent publications of RCAHM demonstrate (like on Herbert North see pp.12-14) this crude mashing of bodies simply because they seem to be loosely linked with an idea of archiving our past, will inevitably mean that such erudition of Wales’s architectural culture - that we still have to properly learn from - will be extinguished in succumbing to the more powerful Cadw mission of shallow showmanship crowdpulling. We need scholarship attached to the best of publishing standards. Don’t let the fire-starters win out. Buckets of cold water will douse the quango merger fever. 䢇


1+4 Patrick Hannay 2,3 Courtesy Maxhard Ltd

A huge effort has been made to raise civic architectural standards in Wales. Patrick Hannay talked to Richard Wilson, Chairman of the Board of Constructing Excellence in Wales about what has been achieved when government is in the driving seat Procurement is a battleground, particularly in a recession. So the RIBA is in attack-mode. Inflexibility and exclusivity are the charges. But the jeremiads warned us long ago. Architects were giving it all away, they cried: first undercutting each other by dropping the RIBA fee scale, then handing it to project managers, and more recently to contractor-led consortiums. Architect Malcolm Fraser resigned at Scotland’s roll-over and adoption of the English PFI system. Wales wisely resisted PFI. The airwaves are filled by the howls of the excluded: architects rail at the box-ticking European-wide procurement system, OJEU, or the way the UK public agencies have chosen to interpret it; they gripe at public-sector frameworks, at the level of PII required, at the insistence of unreal levels of turnover demanded by clients, on onerous PQQs; and they are not alone in feeling left out. While the vast majority of architectural practices in Wales are well below the official definition of a small to medium sized enterprise (SME), their SME brothers, the Wales-based builders and product suppliers, are also banging at the door of overbearing procurement rules. Given intellectual clout by Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University, and backed by the potentially vast new forces of patronage in the land, registered social landlords (RSLs), bolstered by open debate through the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and supported by key Welsh Government ministers, the issue of keeping the economic and social benefits of development and building local is really beginning to bite. Architects, however, are seemingly outside of this loop of consideration. They are a profession after all, even though we treat them as suppliers! Architectural quality is a phrase rarely heard in the procurement debate. In Wales the dominant influential body on procurement is ‘Constructing Excellence’ not ‘Architectural excellence’. Shouldn’t the focus of the debate be how do we produce the best architecture? In all this maelstrom, there are two very important truths. First, the mass public purchase of fixed product repeats such as paper clips and miles of tarmac for road repair can benefit from once-only framework agreements subject to periodic review. Decent architecture (and that includes school architecture), however, is not paperclips or tarmac. Yes, it has a cost to install it and run it and yes it must be there on time, but that definition of ‘value’ alone will lead us to a cultural poverty of the spirit and body politic. Second, although the concern for equitable and socially-responsible distribution of patronage is understandably heightened in a down-turn, no amount of SQuID (the Welsh Government’s new procurement protection for SMEs) will bring us life-affirming architecture.

procuring excellence

Leading from the front The formation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999 inevitably meant that suddenly becoming responsible for our own architectural patronage would mean a very steep learning curve for the reconstituted nation, that on the whole has had substantial architecture frequently done to it by outsiders. The Design Commission for Wales (DCfW) under the steady guiding hand of Carole-Anne Davies and Constructing Excellence in Wales fronted by the indomitable Richard Wilson and run by Milica Kitson, have been banging the drum incessantly to get us all up to speed. A furious avalanche of seminars and CPD events are rolled out in front of the Welsh construction professions and industry, but you can still spend a whole morning with all the big contractor and the big procurement hitters, and again the word ‘architecture’ will rarely be heard. Why has the culture of architecture gone so far off the radar and how curious this is, for Wilson along with Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas deserve all architects’ admiration, as the two activists most probably responsible for ensuring that Rhodri Morgan didn’t consign the Senedd building to a garage extension to Crickhowell House? Instead, eventually, The Richard Rogers Partnership scheme for the Senedd came magnificently to fruition even, as Wilson knows, a little pared back to stay (cntd p. 24)


Llandudno Junction

1 Welsh Government offices Llandudno Junction in early days before planting was established. 2 From a visit to a slate quarry a chance sighting of three randomly positioned slate slabs became a a partial generator of the form. 3 Man-made lake side setting; but opportunity for the rest from work moving into the landscape rarely taken. Security concerns and a hermetic work culture seem to deny it.


4 Popular cafe space, off reception. 5 Gestural copper signalling device at entrance. 6 Typical workspace. Generous space standards. 7 The meeting rooms closing of the public café from the informal staff only business lounge type space.


8 Copper against slate. 5

9 Site layout.

7 1 Llandudno Junction credits Client: Welsh Assembly Government (now Welsh Government) Main contractor: Pochins Construction Architect: Austin-Smith:Lord Civil and structural engineer: Tier Consult Services engineer: S I Sealy & Associates Concept architect: Aedas Principal furniture supplier: RH Powell



3 4

2 5 6



6 1 Dining area 2 Conference rooms 3 Reception 4 Café / Exhibition 5 Meeting rooms 6 Informal meeting space


7 Void above café 8 Void above informal meeting space 7







1 Stewart Jones, copyright Infinite 3d 2 David Williams 3-7 Patrick Hannay 8 Neil Chapman 9 Courtesy ASL


10 Louvred elevation corner detail at Welsh Government offices Aberystwyth. 11 The Welsh Government part of what is conceived spatially as single project with two HQs, the second being for Ceredigion County Council. 12 Reception security control. 13 Many informal and different meeting spaces occur effectively throughout the working area of the building. 14 View from one atrium across landscape to atrium in the Ceredigion CC’s HQ.


15 Legible, open, generous floor to floor heights and a building that all parts of the electorate and the workers can feel is their own.

11 12








Aberystwyth credits Client: Welsh Assembly Government (now Welsh Government) Contractor: Carillion Architect, interior designers and space planner: Powell Dobson Architects Civil and structural engineer: Clarke Bond Services engineer: Hoare Lea Landscape designer: Soltys Brewster Principal furniture supplier: RH Powell Project manager/surveyor: Chandler KBS


10, 12, 13, 15 Patrick Hannay 11 RH Powell 14 Antony Davies


within budget. So how has Welsh Government fared since that early RIBA Award win, with its architectural patronage of decentralised government and its relocation strategy? After all, presumably they should be maintaining the pace? A veil is politely drawn over the Merthyr office, the first out of the stocks. ‘That after all’, says Wilson, ‘was a developer-led project’, as if to say, well, what would you expect? Poor Merthyr! That didn’t happen under his watch, but it did suggest someone needed to get a grip. The Llandudno Junction and Aberystwyth offices are clearly in a different league, although intriguingly neither won an RIBA Award. Should this concern us and them? Leading values Wilson and the contractor-led teams that delivered them are clearly proud of what they achieved. Several times in the conversation Wilson reminds me: they were on time and on budget, no mean feat for a young organisation up-skilling fast on the architectural patronage front. The spectre of the Scottish Parliament saga looms large. It clearly terrified Assembly civil servants and ministers. Not on their watch would such a giant cost overrun debacle occur, as if to also conclude, that’s what happens when you allow ‘architecture’ to lead. Wilson clearly understood the sheer beauty of Miralles’s conception, but all the public and members talk about, he suggests, is the cost overrun. So the procurement formula for WG is currently contractor-led. Architects are, in essence, suppliers to the contractor: Carillion and Powell Dobson Architects (PDA) for the offices at Aberystwyth, Pochin and AustinSmith:Lord (A-S:L) for Llandudno Junction. (There was an earlier phase of the latter project with BAM and Aedas, but more of that later.) When I ask why isn’t there a chief public architect at cabinet level within Welsh Government, Wilson bats that off with a ‘you’ll have to ask ministers that’. So who does hold the client’s hand architecturally? Well, it’s complex. Wilson’s father was an architect. The passion for architecture is clearly in 1 Wilson’s life-blood, but with his memory of the financial largesse of his father’s clients, he is clearly of the view that architecture in its conceptual and strategic concerns were dominant. Delivery and budget issues were not top of the list. This is clearly untenable with the Public Audit Office policing government’s every move, hence the preference for contractorled projects. So who with sound wisdom and judgement architecturally holds the client’s hand at every stage from conception to fit-out? The formula is not consistent. The only constant presence throughout is the DCfW, but its workload precludes any detailed architectural oversight on any single project. PDA clearly has a long track record with Welsh Government, having been there pre-competition for The Senedd, advising the civil servants. Jeff Tucker of PDA has sat on both sides of the fence, demand and supply. PDA was hired by WG to check every single A-S:L/Pochin drawing on the Llandudno project. So who checked the PDA/Carillion drawings on Aberystwyth? A firm of quantity surveryors, acting as project managers, Chandler KBS; so no consistency there. So did PDA help draw up the client’s brief at Llandudno, for this is where so many projects go so disastrously wrong, particularly the Scottish Parliament. (Client inexperience at editing the brief is legion, even though ironically they are the experts at what they do. ) No, PDA was not client


demand-side adviser. A Giles Alldiss of Aukett Fitzroy Robinson was on the WG payroll at the brief-forming stage at Llandudno, but not for Aberystwyth. The fit-outs for both buildings were tendered separately and were essentially won as a job lot by Powells of Bridgend. What about the design consistency of architecture to fit-out so very evident in Miralles’s Scottish parliament? Well, it varies. Jeff Tucker recalls a very close liaison and dialogue with supplier and users on the fit-out, but that’s hardly surprising. PDA, WG and Powells had a working relationship pre-Senedd and PDA claims in its credits to be both architect and interior designer. Alastair Sunderland of A-S:L describes a more hands-off experience on fit-out at Llandudno. That was supervised by the contractor. Delivering the architecture The whole relocation strategy is currently under Welsh Audit Office review as a standard procedure of government. No doubt ‘architectural quality’ will not figure much in its deliberations. No doubt it will scrutinise what is referred to politely as the ‘pause’ on the Llandudno project where Wilson, having in essence delivered The Senedd, turned his expert gaze on Llandudno and advised ministers to ‘pause’ the project. Something was clearly adrift. What had happened to wisdom and judgement? The outcome was that while Aedas’s Brian Hamilton was kept on to revise and develop the design during ‘the pause’, the project was re-tendered and BAM lost out to Pochin and A-S:L whose role was as executive architect to Hamilton’s design. So while this, according to Wilson, helped to keep the project eventually on time and on budget - the architectural die is in essence fatally cast. (see pp. 22-23) Llandudno versus Aberystwyth The architectural clues are everywhere at Llandudno. The huge two-storey high windows at the end of each wing are so belt and braces protected from bomb blast and solar gain to be almost useless as a meaningful vista and, curiously, the true scenic drama is more towards the Conwy estuary and Snowdon, not the actual axial focus of the three wings 2 of the Llandudno plan. Someone ought to have challenged this. The paradox of ‘open government’ overridden by severe security concerns is simply given overt expression. Security wins out. Conceptually, it appears the plan owes its origins to a chance observation of three randomly positioned slabs of slate seen by Hamilton in a quarry. This is a worrying, somewhat abstract, start. Was this challenged? No surprise then when allied to security concerns and a somewhat hermetic cultural tendency of staff using the building, that the usage and experience of the building seems utterly disconnected from its surrounding landscape and immediate lakeside setting. The slate-clad blocks also gave A-S:L the headache of how slate performs under terrorist attack. A curious copper-plated curved portal element greets you at the entrance. It seems gestural rather than being a convincing architectural element. The curve might make some sense when studying a plan as it seeks limply to corral the three wing together, but it is not spatially legible and the linking route across a series of split wings only results in a battery of doors that security demands have to remain closed (rather than be held back on magnetic fire closers) thus rendering the whole spatial experience of the building claustrophobic. Control wins out, architecture loses. In the re-design, a wall of glazed meeting rooms divided what originally was a single large top-lit public hall (almost the equivalent in function to Miralles’s infamous members’ meeting place), but this has now


1 PatricK Hannay 2 RH Powell

become split in two, between a very well used and perfectly pleasant publicly-accessible café/reception and information point, and a separate underused business lounge for informal civil servant meetings with the public. Its low usage is hardly surprising given its position in the plan and what it takes to reach it, and its invisibility to the visitor. Shouldn’t architectural wisdom have spotted that at the planning stage? Aberystwyth (p23), in contrast, gets the relationship of informal meeting place to workplace spot on by an open and simply legible plan and section, and having the informal gathering at a variety of points close to, and in sight of, where you work. The glazing to the Llandudno meeting rooms is blocked out by giant electronic presentation kit which you see the back of from the entrance hall. The rooms are claustrophobic, permanently electrically lit; the Star-Wars/Darth Vader-furniture doesn’t help either. Of course the place ‘functions’ all right; workplaces are generous and well lit -and working life is no doubt reasonably comfortable - and it will perform to its BREEAM requirements, setting its aspirations high for its low-carbon footprint. The same could be said of the Aberystwyth office; and while the interior architecture there clearly owes a debt to Rab Bennetts’s influential Wessex Water headquarters of 2000, (which in turn grew out of Peter Foggo’s and Rab Bennetts’s Wiggins Teape headquarters at Basingstoke for Arup Associates 1981), Aberystwyth’s clarity of architectural intent allows it to overcome all the challenges that have become pitfalls at Llandudno. It is legible in all the ways that such a public government demands. As the public you seem to enter its inner workings. Almost everything appears to be on view. Acoustically, spatially, environmentally it is delicately balanced. Floor to floor heights are generous. The informal break-out spaces on the crossing bridges are well judged. Fit-out and shell seem very well syncrhonised. Like The Senedd, you, the public, the civil servant worker and the managers can see the many layers of dialogue in action. Security is direct and straightforward. There are no gestural abstractions except for the symmetrical geometry of the angled entrance façades (Ceredigion County Council has its headquarters next door also by PDA and designed as one ensemble) that make for a curious approach by pedestrians, and the railway-facing elevations do nothing to change the travelling public’s perception that the backlands are the badlands. Apart from that, it’s a class act. Out of all this we are left with one simple conclusion. Aberystwyth wins architecturally because PDA through its continuity of experience of both the demand and supply side of Welsh Government ensured ‘architecture’ was at the head of conversations that so often only wants to talk about ‘on-time’ and ‘on-budget’. PDA had the wisdom and role of a chief public architect, even if it was in a contractor-led context. As Robert Camlin, Wales’s pre-eminent maker of marks in the land, never tires of reminding us all, outstanding architectural patronage requires ‘desire, discrimination and money’, but without discrimination and sound architectural judgement all the ‘desire’ and ‘money’ in the world will not deliver us the architectural excellence we so urgently need. 䢇 Facing page: 1 Belt and braces security and sun louvres counter the potential benefit of the huge areas of glazing at Llandudno. 2 Not much love to the rear elevation Aberystwyth.

touchstones... heads who wins Until the setting up of the Professional Diploma in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT, Machynlleth in 2008 there was only one architecture school in Wales, the ‘Welsh School’ in Cardiff. Gaining entry to the WSA was, and is, tough. Being a frequent league-table leader in teaching architecture, and always with international aspirations, it was understandable but still shocking, that in the final MArch year of 2011-12 there were only two students out of fifty-seven from Wales. The decision, a year ago, to focus the whole of the MArch final thesis projects for the first time on the ‘Heads of the Valleys’ was to say the least provocative, possibly dangerous, but also long overdue. Was there going to be an irresolvable disjuncture between what the RIBA expects of MArch students, between what students expect their employers to be impressed by, and what sort of architectural skills might best serve a community with only 54% of the working age population in employment, many of whom are suffering from long-term health problems founded on decades of industrial decline.


Maybe the best tactic was not to kid yourself, face up to your limits and accept the inevitable disconnect. Instead trust in energetic creative and hopefully sensitive intelligence; trust in young eyes and minds; trust in the outsider looking in, cutting to the chase quicker and thinking the impossible. All that was then needed would be a public forum both digital and, where required, physical to allow the visions to float out to all those heads in the valleys, to be either sunk by apathy or disbelief at the arrogance of the propositions or energised as an opener to a long overdue conversation.


For the moment the only public summary of their endeavour is by Andrew Roberts in the current issue of the WSA’s own magazine MADE. Touchstone aims to expand the forum. 䢇



3 Wai Han Ho University on the street, Merthyr 4 Steve Ranson Bio refinery Cilfynydd valley basin 5 Nick Drofiak Observatory, research and space station, Rhonnda Fawr 6 Oliver Steels Monestery plus crematorium/cemetery, Penrhys Rhondda Fawr


Those who advocate and practice ‘Gove-style’ philistinism in schools’ architecture should pay a visit to Wales to see the Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture-winning Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School in Bridgend. Richard Woods reports

distinct for distinction 1

I recently saw a striking photograph in an art gallery in Glasgow – dating from about 1981 - of post-punk band Orange Juice in a small café drinking tea. Cultural shifts are frequently fuelled by reaction to the recent past. The decorous tea-drinking was, no doubt, a deliberate retort to the trashed-hotel-room activities of the Rolling Stones’ era that, in turn, was a rebellion against the well-mannered pop music of the 1950s. So it is with school design. Since the end of the 1939-45 war, with David Medd’s ‘Building Bulletin Number 1’ as much a manifesto as a sober design guide, new schools were to be the antithesis of their Victorian forebears: light, airy, flexible and predominantly open-plan. In turn,

the Hampshire schools movement can be seen to have been reasserting a sense of context and character as a critique of the ‘any place’ quality of the worst examples of the CLASP system-schools era. While many major concert halls, museums and other prestigious commissions are designed in ambitious zoomorphic forms by signature architects, in other fields, and notably in the designs of schools, there has recently been a discernible shift towards a more pared down approach, with simple plan-forms and a quieter aesthetic. The roots of this are in part a reaction against the flamboyant designs of early city academies of the New Labour administration, where dramatic designs were encouraged in order to help revivify




1 The main approach. The chapel to the right of the glazed entrance is wrapped visually in a material that suggests it is solid hewn rock 2 The appalling conditions of the school at Tondu, Bridgend where they moved from. 3 The magnificent gathering place just inside the entrance where all the civic and collective parts of school life overlap and feed off each other’s presence. 4,5 The whole school can assemble in this gathering place which opens onto a space for performance. 6 A specially commissioned artwork by Christian Ryancovers the sliding screen that can mask the performance space beyond, when required.

4 5 6

deprived areas1. Equally current economic austerity and the coalition government’s spending priorities are forcing schools’ designers towards simpler and more repetitive design solutions. With the imminent launch of England’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSPB), the coalition government’s largest school building project (exclusively for England at this time), there has been considerable debate in the construction industry about standardisation. Responding to the recommendations of the James Review published in 2011, the Department for Education’s original intention was that the programme would be founded on standardised designs to save money on designers’ time. But schools aren’t easily

The school has moved from its former location in a decrepit 1960s school in Tondu, 5 miles away. In common with most faith schools it draws its cohort from a wide catchment (with the new car park accommodating 12 bus bays). Nonetheless, the school is keen on promoting community use. The joint-funded provision of new sports facilities is used by the school, but given a separate architectural identity and an out-of-hours public entrance. Known as the Brackla Sports Centre, it has reportedly enjoyed good take-up by the local community. HLM won the commission from an open field in 2009, having been invited with three other short-listed practices to develop an outline design. HLM’s design approach uniquely suggested a threes t o r e y s o l u tion, which brought a compelling advantage for the client in allowing the accommodation of a large artificial grass pitch into the highest part of the site. The developed design provides two flanks of three-storey teaching accommodation broadly running along an east-west axis with one wing cranked to accommodate a generous triple-height

marshalled into a one-size-fits-all approach, being subject to many complicating factors: occupied sites, varying pedagogies and specialisms, differing special needs’ provisions, retained buildings and often complicated topography, and the department was forced into a climb-down, with the programme now being launched with ‘baseline’ designs. Out of darkness into the light All of this applies just to England. In Wales, school procurement is as yet less of a unified process, and thankfully offers an opportunity for alternative approaches to be explored. The new Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School in Bridgend, designed by Jamie Yeoman of HLM Architects, provides a useful counterpoint to this more streamlined approach. The school is very much a bespoke design to a distinctive brief for a school on a challenging and complex site. The school is small for a high school, with 750 places including sixth form, and occupies an elevated site located in the heart of the modern Brackla estate, consisting of predominantly social housing, to the east side of Bridgend. 7

7 Where there have to be corridors the architects have worked hard to bring daylight flooding in from above. 8 The ground level reception is generous and open but now requires a revolving door to ensure the working temperature is not too affected by draughts.

triangular entrance foyer. What a space this is. It’s a product of brave decision-making from the headteacher and the school’s senior leadership team, and an imaginative design response. I think it’s easy to overstate the influence on the character of a school brief that being a faith school brings – after all it is pretty much all schools that claim they want their school to be welcoming, inclusive and celebratory of achievement – but beyond the provision of a chapel, the ambition to be able to hold a whole school community together, in this case for large assemblies and mass, seems to be particularly important for church schools. Given that area allocations conventionally allow for an assembly hall that can accommodate only a single year group, Archbishop McGrath briefed for the assembly hall to




8 Key: 1. Main hall 2. Chapel 3. Learning resource centre 4. Reception 5. Toilets 6. Activity studio 7. Sports hall 8. Sports facility entrance 9. Dining area 10. Staff room 11. Sixth formers 12. Break-out space 13. Science preparation room 14. Art classroom

14 5 13

12 2nd FLOOR


10 5



8 5




3 2




open via a large sliding-folding door onto a wide staircase - which doubles as tiered seating - spanning through all three storeys of the school to provide seating for all to be able to view the stage area 2. This stair, coupled with the decision to have one entrance to the school for all, and through the design strategy of having neither a draught lobby nor a glazed separation to the generous reception desk, brings the visitor immediately into the heart of the school. From this entrance foyer one catches views of the hall, the chapel, the habitable stair, and an ICT ‘cwtch’ area underneath, and student movement along walkways to the upper levels above. The space is loaded with natural light both from the triple-storey expanse of west-facing curtain walling along the entrance facade and by large circular rooflights. It’s a thrilling capturing of the school about its business, and acts as a strong signifier of the sense of community that the school wishes to promote: here is the heart of the school, a place students and staff return to repeatedly as they move from lesson to lesson through the day. Those walkways that brush alongside the foyer space at high level bring drama, but to my mind result in some awkward plan arrangements, with corridors cranking off their central path between twin-loaded classroom wings to take in the view. I think a more efficient plan approach could have been employed that might have yielded other benefits. While it’s clear that the



break-out spaces were not a major priority for this school, in the one place on the second floor where there is an open-plan learning area it provides a welcome relief to the predominance of relatively narrow winding corridors (though many are top lit). Excellence questioned The school has achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating, which is very creditable, but there are a number of internalised rooms without natural light, and many classrooms are too deep and insufficiently tall to offer optimal natural light and single-sided natural ventilation. Nonetheless, the classrooms are pleasantly designed using underfloor heating, exposed concrete soffits for thermal mass, and neat serviced ceiling rafts fed from bulkheads at the back of the classrooms. Departmental arrangements are sensibly organised, and the separate community access with associated parking for the sports accommodation is well resolved. The school’s external form on an elevated site is well ordered, legible and even though three storeys, is sensitive in scale. Elevations are predominantly a mix of render and blue engineering brickwork, with solar shading to windows, while the hall and chapel wing is clad in an elegant, dark-grey resin cladding panel that continues uninterrupted into the foyer space to the front of the chapel. A cross is subtly expressed in this cladding through a simple widening of the panel joints. This calm colouring is in sharp contrast to the

3 4

1 Sports facilities are shared with surrounding community out of hours. 2 Confident application of spot colours given a lift by top-light, is applied to robust functional furniture items such as lockers and cubicles. 3 The brightly coloured cladding clothes the sports facilities, its horizontal grid running with the slope of the internal ramp. 4 Typical classroom with not much take-up of break out spaces and innovatory teaching methods. 5 The chapel cross modestly delineated by the joint space in the cladding. 6 A quiet spiritual space for reflection just off the main entrance and away from the gathering crowd. 7 Confident and thoughtful treatment of the place that can be so much trouble, the toilets off the main gathering space at ground floor level.

treatment of the sports hall which blends the yellows and greens of the school’s and papal colours in a randomised collage of metal cladding panels. Such an approach is currently fashionable 3 and I suppose liable to date, therefore, but it does provide a cheery landmark from a distance. Developing character At around £21 million (two-thirds of which was provided by the Welsh Government) for 8,000 sqm the school had a decent budget, and considerably more than we can expect to see provided under PSPB or the Academies programmes. It is also a product of intensive consultation, and a carefully developed bespoke brief. The quality of materials, internal finishes, external landscapes are all very good, and likely to age well. The school is clearly delighted with its new building, and sees in it a clear reflection of all the main ambitions of the brief. And while there is real radicalism in the treatment of the foyer-hall-stair, the school has largely resisted planning decisions that would militate against future school management teams adopting different educational approaches 4. The Welsh 21st Century Schools Programme is undergoing review, and funds are as ever tight. But here is an opportunity for Wales to take a different path from England where there is a clear directive to build fast and cheap with less emphasis on design quality and user

obituary Brendan Minney DipArch(Dist) RIBA



consultation. Wales in contrast should pursue a school-building programme committed to thoughtful, bespoke design emulating this award-winning example. If this approach initially costs more – which is questionable, as careful interrogation of the particularities of a project often drives out cost – the extraordinary expense of replacing a generation of relatively young school buildings, as we are currently doing with the CLASP-era of 1960s-1970s schools, ought to teach us that a longerterm view is worthwhile. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that well-designed and well-built schools lead to better outcomes in terms of happier school communities and improved results5, but perhaps the economic argument stands on its own merit too: building to last is less expensive in the long run. Archbishop McGrath doesn’t feel like the product of maverick individualism, but it has its own clear character, and stands as a strong exemplar of the benefits of careful consideration of the unique challenges that each new school project

brings. It isn’t a radical rejection of past approaches to school design, but it has brought fresh thinking to how the core of a school might be conceived differently, to the benefit of the staff and students and to all those who are interested in school design in Wales. 䢇 Footnotes: 1 The Academy of St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool, (designed by Richard Woods and Paul Healy-Jones of Capita Symonds) a good example of an early City Academy; Touchstone, November 2007. 2 This strategy has been popularised by the extraordinary influence of Hellerup School in Copenhagen designed by Arkitema Architects. 3 This can probably be traced back to Wilkinson Eyre’s early Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects in Bristol. 4 A strong case can be made that it’s a simpler task to turn open-learning areas into cellular classrooms than the other way around. 5 The Academy of St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool saw the most improved educational outcomes of any school in the UK in the year of its opening. The problem is that it is impossible to be sure to what degree this is a result of the building, the new school leadership or the fresh start. Richard Woods is a practising architect leading the Capita Symonds Architecture Cardiff-based schools design team who have designed several award-winning schools. These include the Academy of St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool. In his previous practice, he designed the RIBA-award winning Perthcelyn Community Primary School. (Touchstone issue 10 pp. 3-6). He has served as a CABE schools design review panel member and is a regular speaker at national conferences. He has recently contributed to the architectural delivery on three successful BSF bids and is currently working on a series of school projects in Wolverhampton, and a community centre in rural Uganda.

Born in August 1941 in Gower, Cornelius Brendan Minney attended schools in Swansea before studying at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff where he attained a distinction in his diploma in architecture in 1967, and was awarded both Rome and Aberthaw scholarships in recognition of his extraordinary talent and artistic abilities. Following his graduation, he worked a t s e v e r a l national practices in Bristol and London before returning to Wales as a senior architect in Swansea City Council’s architecture department. During his time in Swansea he won an internal design competition for the new civic centre that was built on a coastal site along the Mumbles Road. In 1985 Brendan established his own office and combined concept design, expertise in rural housing and planning matters with many national commissions for professional illustration, at which he excelled. He was recognised several times in the Lord Mayor of Swansea’s design awards scheme for his projects in the city. A combination of his talents and his unique personality led to a continuous flow of commissions to design and visualise major projects both in the UK and overseas. He also illustrated schemes for the former Welsh Development Agency, Cardiff and Swansea city councils, including works on the international sports village in Cardiff Bay and, recently, the visitor centre at Cardiff Castle (below). Brendan had an encyclopaedic knowledge on a wide range of interests, including music, art, literature and sport, as well as an insatiable quest to keep up to date with eminent architectural works. He was a very humorous man whose wit was appreciated by both friends and clients alike. Brendan showed tremendous stoicism throughout his illness and he chose to continue working until days before his death in Singleton Hospital on 30 December 2011. He is survived by his wife Rita and their two children Ian and Elizabeth. 䢇

Credit list: Client: Archdiocese of Cardiff and Bridgend County Borough Council. Architect: HLM Architects Contractor: Leadbitter Construction Cost consultant and project manager: Davis Langdon Structural and highway engineer: Jubb Consulting Services engineer: Arup Fire engineering: FEDRA Buro Happold Artist: Christian Ryan Photography: Girts Gailans 7 27 9

In a rare act of munificent patronage one Welsh castle has jumped into the twenty-first century. Tim Graham reports on a noteworthy transformation

altering architecture




Convulsive change is tricky for existing ancient buildings. New structure and interventions must find an appropriate dialogue with the old. With new occupancy, comes new spatial demands. It’s rare that there is a neat fit of old to new. In ancient buildings those earlier convulsive changes are legible and frequently writ large with a robust or sometimes nonetoo-pretty dialogue between the new and what went before, between one layer of change laid over another. Does one preserve and respect them all? Each generation uses its current construction technology. Each new layer requires clarity of execution and a precise strategy if we are to still claim this as architecture of note. Nowhere is this seismic journey of change more visible than in a castle. So many reach a point where there is an utter disconnect. If they have survived the ravages of tribal warfare, then generally it is a matter of cost of upkeep, loss of purpose, and the threats of inheritance tax charges that leads them back to ruin. Nothing works, nothing fits, they become mere skeletons of an age left behind. So then the state steps in to curiously fix time, stop the rot, salvage the carcass and place them in aspic for the nation. They are dead, and live only in the imagination However Roch Castle near St Davids in south-west Wales utterly breaks that mould. From its thirteenth century Flemish immigrant origins, its startling igneous rock promontory was to determine its earliest D-plan, three-storey tower, although the purity of that externally was shattered by lightning in 1314 and the apsidal end of the D-plan was transformed into a three-storey rectilinear addition containing small chambers and new stairs. The purity of the D-plan was still legible internally, however. It changed hands four times in


4 3, 4 Coping with modern regulations, the magnificent wall-clinging stair that also must be the protected means of escape, and hence the glazed fire protective screen to maintain the sense of the volume of the original castle. 5 Pre-1899 dereliction. 6 Striking first view from the entrance to the site. 7,8 New glazed sunroom addition. On the roof of the early twentieth century, three-storey extension by Viscount St Davids

1 The garrison room in 2012 2 As it was in the mid 1960s. This is now the main public entrance space with the rock on which the castle sits revealed.


two years in the 1640s’ civil war suffering considerable damage. Remaining a ruin for three centuries, with upper floors gone, stairways intact but staircases missing , it was only in 1899 that Sir John Wynford Philipps, later Viscount St Davids, set about making it fit his new requirements. New floor levels were installed and stairs reassembled within the original volumes in the thickness of the walls. Rooms were created within what were previously singular volumes at each level. Construction and structural interventions were contemporary. Cement render and mortar tragically replaced lime. Dampness was exacerbated and rife. Innovative reinforced concrete floors on steel beams embedded in the damp walls didn’t really have sufficient cover on the reinforcement. A large fissure in the north wall became a route


1+4 David Perkins of Castle Photography, 3,6,7,8 Patrick Hannay

Items delineated in red are the additions and alterations undertaken in the current project. 6 7



Defensive tower 13th C

High status residence 15th C

Romantic ruin 18th/19th C

Country residence 1910-1970

Luxury retreat 2009 - to today


into a sizeable and somewhat lumpen three-storey extension by 1920. A little timber clad outcrop, a pantry, was added later to the asphalted flat roof. Lord Kenswood took over in 1954 and between then and the later American owner, a ‘baronialisation’ of the interiors was enacted until they handed over to a local man, David Berry, who closed off two levels, put in more partitions and tried to run it as a holiday let. The property was on the slide, andthis was a Grade 1-listed structure! There was no Cadw, no Dyfed Archaeological Trust to police the Viscount’s interventions. It was still an era of noblesse oblige except the noblesse didn’t really have the proper cash or architectural judgement to make a fine job of it, and later owners fared no better. In 2009 the whole game dramatically changed. A prodigal son returned. Pembrokeshire-born Keith Griffiths, Director of Aedas International, one of the largest architectural practices in the world and based in Hong Kong, purchased Roch Castle, and Penrhiw Priory to the south-west of St Davids. He hasn’t stopped there. Further properties outside St Davids and in Haverfordwest are in his sights. Griffiths hires Acanthus Holden Architects of Pembroke Dock as his executive architects and £6 million later, with his own crest on the electric automatic gates and above the fireplace in the new hall, he has turned Roch Castle into a six-bedroom, five-star venue for corporate culture under the title Retreats Group, a poignant use and nomenclature for occupation of what is now a very comfortable castle. With the sound intelligent guidance of the local conservation officer, Rob Scourfield, and his good relationship with Cadw, allied to Holden’s close working with Dyfed Archeological Trust, essentially most of the right strategic moves on the historic fabric were made. The remaining medieval fabric was made sound with pennant stone as per original; the damp and cement render was removed and replaced by lime mortar and hemp lime plaster and a ducted dehumidification system; and the rotting reinforced concrete floor and steel structure was replaced by new reinforced concrete floors at the levels as in the 1910-20 conversion (to have reinstated the medieval volumes would have made the project economically unviable.) The accumulated clutter of over cellularisation was cleared out. New double-glazed windows are beautifully engineered in bronze into existing openings with appropriate ironmongery. New doors are in solid oak. The sinuous stair clinging to the external wall, and at times within the wall, reminds you firmly that you are in a castle tower. The main living space (the





1 2 3 4 5

Protected Circ. Bedroom Staff area Kitchen Dining Hall

6 Garrison room 7 Housekeeper 8 Dungeon 9 Sun room 10 Roof terrace

11 12 13 14 15

Court room Chapel Library Exercise room Parapet walk



2 1, 2 All bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms 3 The sun room 4 Attention to detail 5 The new coat of arms


court room) with its medieval semienclosed niches retained, offers more private seats and fits the social dynamic of the corporate get-together while also r e i n forcing that ancient sense of commanding glimpses through masonry slits over the local landscape. The major new architectural interventions are the glazed sun room on the flat roof of the 1920s’ extension, the glazed fire-screen to maintain the reading of the medieval volume, as one rises from below into the court room; and the internal partitions to en suite bathrooms and the bedrooms. Curiously, given the budget, the mirrored D-plan of the new glazed sun space is faceted rather than a perfect curve. The galvanised steel roof eaves detail, to deal with the ferocious coastal weather, appears to mimic the stone corbels below but aesthetically appears overbearing, since you are forced close to them by the narrow parapet walkway. The services box on its roof may be explained away by references to previous dining hall chimneys, but they and the new box are not a pretty sight. Externally and internally, the transition from the solid protection of the court room to the airiness of the added sun room required a more definite separation, if possible, by glass – a sense of leaving the mother ship. While the spatial intention of the glazed fire screen is clear and effective, its rectilinear white metal framing feels utterly foreign; surely in these days it could have been frameless? Of course, all these interventions are reversible,


but these small decisions suggest an unfamiliarity in dealing with the language of interior architecture. An even more dramatic question could have been posed at the outset, should the Viscount’s 1920s’ addition have been removed entirely to return the castle to its medieval purity and then either add new extra accommodation in an utterly contemporary technology or even better sink it out of sight in the land? In contrast, for the furnishing and fittings there was great certainty and familiarity with the palette. Griffiths has over a long time built up a very personal family of suppliers to him and Aedas. He can command huge loyalty. His patronage is powerful. The flooring is a mixture of Portugese limestone and Italian marble. Griffiths has visited the quarries personally many times. All soft furnishings are assembled by a Chinese company which does many of Griffiths’s other commercial interiors. All are covered with synthetic and hypoallergenic material in varying shades of grey. There are no natural fibres anywhere. The bathroom fittings are all typical four-star-and-up international hotel spec. Massive circular leather rugs in bedrooms centre and hold the bed in the space, creating a pure hard-edged geometry in impure volumes. The same palette appears in Penrhiw Priory. The Foster + Partners’ dictum that people create the colour has clearly been carried with Griffiths from his time with Foster on the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters. The process and the committed

Credits List Client: Retreats Group: Keith Griffiths Architect: Acanthus Holden, Pembroke QS : Faithful and Gould, Swansea Structural engineer: Roger Casey Associates, Carmarthen M&E: Saba Consult Ltd, Swansea. Interior design: Aedas Interiors, Hong Kong Main contractor: Welsh Heritage Construction Ltd Lampeter Electrical sub contractor: EMC Ltd Mechanical: G.G.T. Thomas and Son Ltd



careful execution by both patron and executive architect of saving and restoring the fabric of this historic structure for at least another century are quite remarkable. Equally, Griffiths is determined that this project will not pull up the drawbridge on the local economy. He has high hopes that what this ‘exec’ hideaway market already does for Cornwall will come to Pembrokeshire. The vision is bold. Yet the paradox of the project is that in some ways the impression left, as an inhabited place, is that it is unremarkable, even a little repressive. Of course, this is endemic in the culture of the brief. It is expected that the executives will jet in from all parts of the world to the small airport nearby. The possible shock and excitement of its striking exterior, and no doubt the frequently powerful inclement weather, will be quickly calmed by a familiar international neutrality. This is their world. A few may brave the magnificent surfing and the exhilarating white water riding to go with the dolphins, but the overriding experience will be that this is what it says on the box, ‘Retreats Group’, and the castle has always been the place of the last stand of the all-powerful, and that’s how it remains. 䢇 Suppliers/ Subcontractors Conservation materials: Ty Mawr Lime Ltd. Stone Carving: Coe Stone Ltd. Metal work: Creative Spiral, Pier Engineering, Kingswood Engineering Ltd and Tumble Forge. Zinc Roofing: VM Zinc, installed Cotswold Metal Roofing Ltd. Curtain walling; Kawneer UK Ltd: Sanitary Ware: Starck Range from Duravit Ltd + Hans Grohe. Shower trays: Bette. Glass enclosures: Majestic. Tiling and showers: Abbey Masonry & Restoration Ltd: Structural Glass: APSS Ltd: Windows: Vale Garden Houses Ltd. Reception floor: Portugese Gascoine Bleu limestone supplied by Dimpomar Rochas Portuguesas LDA. Court Room and other stone floors: Italian Marble supplied by Beltrami. Wood block floors: V.A.Hutchinson Flooring Ltd. Joinery: Limed oak by James Ratford Bridge Ltd. Ironmongery: Frank Allart supplied The Walters Group. Louvered shutters: The New England Shutter Company Ltd. Blinds: Silent Gliss Ltd. Bespoke furnishings: Channels Furniture Company. Kitchen: Classic Kitchens, Whitland. Paints: Keim Ltd and Ecos Organic Paints Co. Artwork by local artists: Dan Wright (ceramicist), Amanda Wright (textiles), Brendan Stuart Burns (artist). Contract form: JCT SBC With Quantities 2005.


1,2 David Perkins of Castle Photography 3,4,5 Patrick Hannay

Since the last issue of Touchstone, it’s been a particularly busy period, with a number of staff changes including the addition of Kate Cubbage as Policy and Partnerships Coordinator and the return of Hayley Giles from maternity leave. Kate’s addition to the team has enabled a stepping up of our engagement with the Welsh Government, just in time for the deluge of consultations on planning, procurement, Building Regulations, sustainability and more. With the further devolution of powers to the Welsh Government, the role of RSAW in lobbying for architecture and architects is ever more important, and while it’s not always in the media spotlight, over time it can make a real difference to our daily tasks. Therefore, the focus of this report is on the policy changes that will impact upon us all. We hope that in coming months many of you will both support and engage with this very valuable area of our work. Housing bill The Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis AM, published Homes for Wales: A White Paper for Better Lives and Communities, for consultation in May of this year following his broad-brush consultation Meeting the Housing Challenge. We’ve submitted robust responses to both consultations. During the consultation, we met twice with the minister and were pleased to receive his support for the visit to Wales in June of the RIBA’s Future Homes Commission. On both of these occasions, design quality was emphasised. As design issues are expressly referred to in the White Paper we’re confident that our engagement with the minister has improved the extent to which good design is both understood and valued. The draft legislation will be published in autumn of 2013, and scrutinised through the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee. We hope that many of you will support our lobbying activities at this juncture. Sustainable development bill The Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths AM, issued a consultation document in May based on his proposals for a sustainable development bill and, again, we’ve submitted a detailed response. The bill is being developed to deliver elements of the Programme for Government which includes commitments to: legislate to make sustainable development the central organising principle of the Welsh Government and public bodies in Wales; and to create an independent sustainable development body for Wales. Our response focused primarily on: barriers to

sustainable development; support for plans to make sustainable development a central organising principle for public bodies; and the importance of environmental, economic and social strands of sustainable development being given equal weighting within all decision-making processes. The Welsh Government intends to introduce the bill into the National Assembly for Wales in autumn 2013, and the first positive step on this road is that the RSAW has already been invited to address the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee to highlight key priorities for our sector as part of the government’s budget-planning process. Please let us know your concerns and suggestions for improvement. Planning bill Subsequent to a one-to-one meeting with, John Griffiths, and after submitting comprehensive evidence to the Welsh Government’s consultation documents Towards a Welsh Planning Act: Call for Evidence and Planning for Sustainability, the presumption in favour of sustainable development, we’ve also attended on your behalf two meetings of the Welsh Government’s independent advisory group (IAG) that issued the former. The first meeting comprised a round table discussion with key stakeholders regarding the competing demands of development control and development management. The second meeting was a one-on-one session with the IAG attended by the RSAW’s President Andy Sutton, Vice President Simon Venables and Kate Cubbage. At the time of writing, the RSAW has been invited to attend the Wales Planning Forum in late September and we’re very pleased that we are viewed by the Welsh Government as an integral part of the development process of the proposed planning bill. (Clearly, we always thought architecture was!) We anticipate close involvement in the run up to the publication of the White Paper in spring of 2013, and needless to say we’ll keep everyone informed through the ebulletin and other means. Although critical to ensuring the right long-term outcomes, influencing policy is not the RSAW’s only activity. Since the last issue of Touchstone we’ve been continuing to engage with all of you, and the wider public, through a variety of both annual and one-off activities. Following some staff changes, the delivery of events and CPD is currently led by Hayley. Awards Twenty-two entries were received for RIBA Awards and the inaugural Welsh Architecture Awards in 2012 with two schemes achieving the former and four schemes winning the latter - a reduction on last year because of the rebalancing of the awards. The RSAW held an awards ceremony on 20 June


2012 at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, Cardiff Bay. The well-attended event proved to be an excellent opportunity to celebrate the quality of all shortlisted buildings. Keynote speeches were delivered by the Minister for Housing Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis AM and Immediate Past President of the RIBA, Ruth Reed. We’re already planning the awards ceremony for next year to be bigger and better, and have submitted our request to use The Senedd building! We were also delighted to award three Honorary Memberships of RSAW on the evening: Gwenda Griffith of Fflic, Anthony Kleinberg and Dr Peter Wakelin, from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, recognising the valuable and unique contributions to the betterment of architecture each of these individuals has made. Conference The RSAW Annual Conference has been scheduled for the 13 December 2012 at the RIBA Award-winning Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, so save the date! (see TS18 p.15) Titled ‘Sustaining our Heritage’, it focuses on Wales’s challenge of having, according to Cadw, the oldest building stock in the western world while we have some of the most progressive ideas over energy reduction. The conference will look at how these two forces collide, and how we can best preserve our built heritage while still addressing issues of sustainability. The vote is yours Alongside staffing changes in the RSAW office, at its recent annual general meeting the RSAW Council elected several new members to posts (a full list of positions is available in the RSAW section of the RIBA website; Constitutional changes have also been put in motion, and next year will see the first direct election for president by all the members of RSAW (rather than just by the Council), so there’s never been a better time to get actively involved. 䢇


extract from:

Treftadaeth an address given to the North Wales Association for the Arts by Dewi-Prys Thomas Mold 3 : 7: 1975

"I believe the centuries of the frustration of our enormous creative potential have come to an end. The devolution of powers of government to the people of Wales themselves - which after all is only common sense democracy is now inevitable. I have no doubt whatsoever that so much of the creative energy that perforce was sublimated mainly in the oral arts, in our song and our peerless poetry, will henceforth be channelled also back into the visual arts and into architecture. The native roots are not dead. The standards of visual perfection which were achieved by our Celtic forebears are still there, dotted in the ether. It is up to the young people of this and the coming generations to give them concrete expression. And they will."

imagine what we could be Nick DroďŹ ak of Fighting Spirit Part of his Welsh School of Architecture project for an Observatory, Research and Space station in the Rhondda Fawr.

Touchstone 19  

the magazine for Architecture in Wales

Touchstone 19  

the magazine for Architecture in Wales