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An Artists Colony With Educational Workshops

Part 1 Project 1998
Chris Neve
University of Bath, UK
Carrying out a study on all aspects of urban life in Frome town centre revealed a multitude of possible places where built intervention, either minor or large scale, would benefit the community. The chosen site, south-west of the original market place, consists of a series of terraces that step up to elevate the area and give it prominence - it is concurrently a place from which to observe and a place observed. It acts as a backdrop to the frenzied activity of Market Place, now relinquished to vehicular traffic. At present it is wasteland and so causes discontinuity in possible routes of communication and interrupts the urban grain. It is a barrier to movement and symbolises decay - it was formerly used for industry. The insertion of a built form in this location would have to deal with an array of planning and social issues.

Underlying considerations of typology were the facts that a recent audit carried out in Frome found that Frome has more artists per capita than any other town, at least in the south-west of England, and that accommodation should be provided with studios as an expansion to a Guild of artists already running. By creating new pedestrian routes coupled with a space where people can meet, sit, stand, contemplate and take in the view, everyday street activities may be allowed to happen at ease, away from the danger, pollution and noise of the traffic. This new connection would allow greater accessibility between the town core and the College of Further Education, hospital and Victoria Park, where many events occur during the summer months. The introduction of two public lifts makes the centre reachable to the elderly and disabled, who might find the steep slopes of the surrounding streets impassable. The artists' colony and educational workshops also stem from the knowledge that Frome was originally founded with a monastery in 685 AD. A translation of monastic anatomy, such as dormitory, refectory, atrium and cloister are manifest in the scheme.

In the gradual ripening of urban texture, that absorbs the impact of spasmodic generation, renovation, destruction and regeneration, an apparent randomness seems to conceal the formal parameters of synthesis. The complex whole can be reduced to a layering of simple ideas. The buildings shapes are extrapolated from the site topography - a sharp contour dissects the site. The forms compress and expand developing points of cleavage that hold the fragments together. This geometry permeates the built form, disguises rational aspects of servicing and has a spontaneity that relates to the irregularity of Frome itself. The streets in Frome are narrow and winding. They are urban crevices that frame and restrict our vision - we walk around, between, under, over and beside. These experiential syntax are homologous to the cohesive properties of the building forms. The main building has become a flight of steps. This tectonically lifted surface brings the plane of the ground out of the shadow created by the contour. It is a platform for exhibition and performance. Underneath are semiprivate / controlled spaces that allow the production of visual art - the workshops. Penetrating through this plane are semi-public / public facilities. They are boulders in a stream. People flow around them like living water. Blue pearl granite treads are juxtaposed to the dull, warm, deep brown of copper, cladding these objects - rough against smooth. The building has become sculpture.

Chris Neve

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