London. 2007

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2007
  • Cost: £1.6 Million
  • Clients: Zabludowicz Art Trust

A curatorial attitude to ‘building as backdrop’ led to a light-touch refurbishment approach that reveals the layered fabric of a found building. A former chapel – a rotting mess when we started work on it – has been stripped back to uncover columns, doors and fireplaces and to free spaces from earlier institutional subdivisions. Selected traces of all former occupants – both official and other – have been left to give curators and insitu artists something real to react to. Originally built as the Central Methodist Chapel in 1867, later used as the North London Drama Centre and later still abused by squatters for nearly a decade, the building is now an experimental exhibition space for the Zabludowicz Collection in London’s Chalk Farm.

This grade two-listed, 19th Century Methodist Chapel has been subtly transformed into a major new arts venue for the Zabludowicz Art Trust. The building, discovered by David Rosen of Pilcher Hershman for the Zabludowicz Arts Trust, was severely decaying and in need of considerable care and attention. We were chosen as the architects after working with the Barbican Arts Centre and Saatchi Gallery as well as our reinvention of the Tea Building.

The client’s brief requested a delicate conservation of the decaying fabric to retain the ‘found’ nature of the building’s spaces, which was delivered by a simple and skilful reinvention of the decayed church building incorporating the demanding requirements of a working gallery. The original period features have been retained as have the historical layers-of-use and are an integral part of the three main double-height spaces within the building. The result is a gallery that will present three major site-specific exhibitions per year for a prolific global art collector. The gallery is not a traditional art exhibition space, but a ‘raw’ addition to the often sterile spaces of private collections. Most exhibitions will be commissioned exclusively for display within the gallery thus making the building a central theme in the commissioned works. 

The church was built in 1867 and since has seen a number of alternative uses – drama centre, storage, nursery, community centre. Prior to purchase the church remained fallow for a decade and was placed on English Heritage’s ‘building at risk’ register. To preserve the ‘found’ nature of the client’s brief, the proposal was considered to be subtle in scope, a ‘light touch’, essentially providing what is required to make the existing building ‘safe and sound‘, and allow it to function as a public space. We worked closely with English Heritage and London of Borough of Camden’s Conservation Department to establish a balanced refurbishment combining new with old elements.

Generally, all finishes to the existing fabric are left as existing, with walls, ceilings, doors unpainted and floors uncovered. A ‘light touch’ was carried through to the service requirements, where the existing has been refurbished. Barring obvious fabric repair to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations, it was the intention that the refurbishment should maintain as much as was possible. 

Externally much of the work has been made to make the building secure and accessible to all visitors. The terrace area has been upgraded with salvaged Yorkstone paviers to match the original paving. Parts of the boundary walls have been restored and upgraded and detailed to accommodate simple and modern elements such as the external balustrading to the front elevation, sitting between the existing nineteenth century gateposts. A new ramp has been added to provide reasonable access.

Internal partitions created for the drama centre have been removed in order to reveal more of the original fabric such as concealed cast iron columns and create a public reception area that includes a Servery and Library at the entrance.

All new elements have been designed and detailed to be deliberately simple and contemporary, contrasting with the historic fabric but at the same time highlighting and framing it, examples include the glazed lobby portals in the reception area. Where possible such elements have been designed to be ‘removable’, such as the first floor balustrade, offering potential flexibility of use in the future and limited impact on the delicate existing fabric. Some of the smaller side rooms have been opened up to provide further gallery spaces. A flexible track mounted lighting system deals with both ambient requirements for the gallery and task lighting for specific pieces where needed again without impacting significantly on the existing fabric.

The ‘light touch’ philosophy conveys sensitivity to the historical backdrop, enhancing its inherent character, whilst creating a distinct new gallery environment with which artists can be allowed to reflect on and playfully engage with.  

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