Today the museum has been updated and revitalised by Adam Richards Architects. One of the keys to its success is the incorporation of the cart lodge into the new plan; it has been converted into a new entrance to allow the museum to open directly onto the village green and is linked to the original museum, now refurbished, by two new buildings.
In the years before the First World War the typographer and sculptor Eric Gill and the graphic designer Edward Johnston (best known for his sans serif typeface for London Underground) moved to Ditchling, a rural village on the Sussex Downs above Brighton. Influenced by the teachings of William Morris, they formed a loose community with other artists and craftspeople, including printer and poet Hilary Pepler, poet and artist David Jones, handweaver Ethel Mairet and silversmith Dunstan Pruden.
The community eventually dwindled but the tradition of creativity remained and in 1985 a small museum, celebrating the work of its famous artistic residents, was set up in Ditchling’s Victorian village school. By 2010 the museum had deteriorated; obscure and unseen, it was hidden from the village green by a rickety fence and could reached only by a path through the cemetery. The village green itself had been a farmyard until the 1950s and two agricultural buildings still stood on it; one had been converted into the village hall; the other – a listed 18th century cart lodge – was neglected and deteriorating.
Today, the museum has been updated and revitalized by Adam Richards Architects. One of the keys to its success is the incorporation of the cart lodge into the new plan; it has been converted into a new entrance to allow the museum to open directly onto the village green and is linked to the original museum, now refurbished, by two new buildings. The architect’s brief expanded to include exhibition design, so that the collection and buildings could be integrated and exhibits related to the places where they were made.
As the architect explains:
“We worked with the museum’s disparate range of existing buildings to find thoughtful, innovative solutions to upgrading their fabric and functions while highlighting their original aesthetics. We also chose to explore the poetic possibilities opened-up by designing new buildings that not only complement the old, but that enhance our understanding of the existing buildings, by reflecting the principles of their construction using contemporary technology.”
Timber played a key role in the restoration of the original buildings and the structure of the new. The original oak trusses have been repaired and exposed, the galleries are floored with oak boards and the walls of the restored Victorian schoolroom are lined with vertical matchboarding, to reflect the original cladding. Cross-laminated timber is used throughout the new buildings, chosen for its economy, for its ability to provide large unobstructed volumes and for its structural ‘honesty’. The thickness and size of the panels are celebrated and detailed to express the structural forces.