Bedales’ Art Barn – Architecture Today
In an article for Architecture Today, writer and designer Oliver Lowenstein explains that the new Bedales Art & Design Building both connects with and breaks from the school’s aesthetic past.
From the outset, Oliver explains, the school philosophy emphasised the arts, crafts and drama. In the early 20th century, Bedales’ focus on the imagination and the child’s creative potential drew many artists, craftspeople and writers including the Arts & Crafts furniture-makers and builders Sidney and Edward Barnsley and the architect Ernest Gimson. They designed and helped to build both Lupton Hall (1911) and the oak-framed Memorial Library (1919), with the latter regarded as one of the finest buildings of its time in the country. This connection to the Arts & Crafts movement was further emphasised by the school’s embracing of outdoor work, with a curriculum encompassing gardening, tree planting, livestock tending and barn building.
More recently, continuity came with the appointment of FCB Studios for the development of the timber-framed and clad Olivier Theatre (1996), which saw students assist with carpentry and brickwork. However, the second FCB Studios project – the Art & Design Building (2016) – can be interpreted as a break from the Arts & Crafts tradition, argues Oliver, with an architectural sensibility closer to that of Walters and Cohen’s 2006 Orchard Building than the Olivier Theatre. The building comprises five integrated timber-clad ‘sheds’ surrounding a single oak tree. The stripped-back restraint of the ridge-roofed forms, with the fifth shed extending outwards, suggests what Oliver Lowenstein describes as “an allegiance to the restrained ‘rough-hewn’ aesthetic that has spread through English architecture”, with David Chipperfield’s Kings Cross studio for Anthony Gormley acknowledged as a precedent.