David Sheppard Architects


Wooda Auditorium for Wooda Farm, Cornwall

Wooda is an unusual exercise in small-scale architecture and an outstanding example of the conversion of a small group of existing outbuildings to community use. It was conceived as a place to hold a variety of cultural and performance-based activities and events. The process is described by the actor client as ‘creative and environmental discovery'. The resulting small architectural complex is an elegantly understated group of buildings nestled into the hillside and strung along a wide farm track. The main barn has been converted into a tiny but highly adaptable theatre, office, reception area and green room. The second main building is a timber structure, the overgrown turf roof of which is an extension of the meadow above. The whole ensemble epitomizes the architect's ingenuity. They have used these simple farm buildings to create a versatile mini-campus capable of serving as conference space/artist's studio/dance studio and auditorium, while enhancing the character and feel of the original farm buildings. The brief reads like a love-letter from the client to his architect, and was in fact laid down in a series of highly articulate letters: ‘I think the most important word you uttered on your first visit was the word "secret". I think our task on this project is to open up the whole place so that it can become a working environment again... used and enjoyed by more people, at the same time keeping the sense of an undiscovered secret about the place. This sense of secrecy can extend, I think, to the design of the barn and to the huts in the woods, which need to remain hidden like animals' nests.’ The architect replied not in words (seldom an architect's forte) but with a series of design ideas, most of which have now been fully realized. In a later letter to the architect, the client writes: ‘I love your idea of linking the highest and lowest points of the land through the barn. By opening up the middle of the barn and linking the gallery by bridge to the bank, we open up a whole new axis on the farm, an east-west dynamic that would link the highest point of the top field down through the branches of the beech into the barn and out the other side, straight down the path to the stream. I like the energy behind this and think it would open up the place in just the right kind of way.’ Clearly there was empathy here. The client's dream has been fulfilled by glazing a double-height space in the rear elevation that looks out directly on to the cliff face, bringing in a soft-green light via the trees and mossy rocks. In the end, the success of this quirky project is testament to the deep engagement of the client, a commitment to sustainability, and the interpretation of an idiosyncratic cultural brief.

“Wooda dates back to 1317 nestled into a steep South facing slope surrounded by wild, rugged and dramatic landscape. Although located close to the Atlantic coast of Cornwall there is a sense of an undiscovered secret about the place, sheltered and protected: a place of growth, harvest and renewal. These changes are translated into this barn conversion, where all creative people can discover, develop and share their practice of rehearsal, performance or celebration. At the "drop of a hat " it can become an auditorium for concerts, screenings or presentations designed like a piped or stringed instrument with lead weights on wires and pulleys controlling seating arrangements that rise and fall mimicking the typography and landscape setting in which it sits.”

David Sheppard Architects
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