A pair of mobile studios in the U.K. connect artists, audience, and landscape.
When designing a space meant to inspire working artists, architect Charlotte Knight of British firm Feilden Clegg Bradley decided the best possible collaborator was another creative. As she and colleagues Ross Galtress, Mina Gospavic, and Lauren Shevills began formulating an entry for a contest held by the arts organization Space Placemaking and Urban Design last year, they tapped her old friend, Devon-based artist Edward Crumpton, as an artistic reference and creative catalyst. The resulting workspace revamp, dubbed The Observatory, consists of a pair of angular, 80-square-foot cabins. Knight explained the project’s genesis to Dwell, including the future of the mobile residency program and the joy of torching your own building material.
"We wanted them to be silhouettes that just exist on the landscape," says Feilden Clegg Bradley and architect Charlotte Knight, who helped design The Study and The Workshop, a pair of mobile artist's studios currently located in South Downs, two hours drive south of London. "They’re black and foreboding. In the distance, it’s quite striking."
Knight and her colleagues, Ross Galtress, Mina Gospavic, and Lauren Shevills, unveilied the fully constructed cabins this January after a year of work. The concept of the twin structures revolves around the relationships between artist, audience, and landscape. The Study offers a place for retreat, while The Workshop provides a more public space to collaborate and display work. In a bid to offer a more panoramic perspective, both buildings can rotate on their steel frames.
Sculptor and painter Edward Crumpton, a childhood friend of Knight, helped the architects identify features and constraints that would make for a more creative workspace. Crumpton's own work, including The Mariner's Way, a weaving project inspired by the knot-tying of past generations of sailors, was incorporated into the final design. The charred exterior was inspired by his charcoal sketches.
The eight-square-meter structures were built with prefab techniques to ease the process of moving and constructing them. A two-year residency program will cycle a dozen artists through the portable workshops as they're shifted between sites across the country. "We wanted to create an environment that would create relationships and connections between artists and audience outside of a gallery," says Knight. "The artist can come out of his or her space into the workshop and teach the audience about his or her skills."
The steel-framed structures weren't built for overnight stays, but they could theoretically accommodate a full-time resident. Between the two structures, a resident artist has access to a pair of desks (which can fold together to form a bed), a toilet, and small sink fed by built-in rainwater collection. Solar panels atop the roof generate enough electricty for a lightbulb and laptop. "They are really quite big," says Knight. "The artists have a nice amount of space to work."
The charred timber used for the exterior was made utilizing a traditional Japanese technique. Since nobody in the U.K. was currently offering this kind of material, Knight and her team worked with the contractor to char 500 pieces of wood themselves during construction.
Edward Crumpton's woven art utilizes traditional patterns and knots developed by British mariners. For artists desiring a different perspective, a few turns of the crank will rotate the cabin around its steel frame.
Knight hopes to find a permanent home for the structure after the two-year residency program concludes. "We designed this to be super sustainable, and at the end of two years, we don't want this to be broken down," she says. "We want them to go somewhere like a sculpture garden, where artists and the public can continue to use them."
The interior of The Workshop offers expanded space for collaboration and exhibition.