Location: Oxford, UK
Scope: Gallery + Offices
Old Belcher's Farm, a 17th Century farmhouse, is a collection of barns and stables on a large farming estate at the heart of Little Milton, a picturesque Costwold village in Oxfordshire.
It is in this residential setting that the owner of the property, an art dealer, wished to establish a contemporary art center, displaying his own collection and installing shows within a more domestic and intimate setting than the typical industrial lofts of the urban commercial gallery. The grounds became a place of exhibition allowing the art collection to spill into nature. The old farmhouse buildings were to be converted into art galleries, where the architecture would react to the intimacy of its domestic setting. A place where art is displayed, while simultaneously the owner could informally entertain amongst his extensive art collection.
The main barn is converted into the main exhibition space. The building is compartmentalised into the public galleries with their dedicated entrance, and a more intimate library, dining room and kitchen, for the smaller informal gatherings.
The galleries are devised to accommodate different scales of art, dividing the spaces into double height galleries for large sculpture and installations. A single storey extension with skylights for natural light, houses the more intimate scale art, such as paintings and smaller sculptures of installations.
The library is conceived as the focus of the building, a transitional and pivotal space between the private and public spaces. The idea was that once inside the library, one should feel fully surrounded by books, rather than walls. The space is galleried and the ceiling mirrored, giving the sense that the library extends vertically into infinity. The illusion is then broken by an oversized pink skylight, puncturing the ceiling into a deep void, giving a soft and warm natural glow to the books.
The four walls are covered in full height bookshelves, within which four secret doors have been integrated. When closed, the space seems to have no exit, and one is fully immersed in this extensive and wondrous art book collection. The secret doors slide and pivot to create passageways to the galleries or the dining room, or hide a guest loo or a stair to the mezzanine balcony. The back of the pivoting doors are mirrored, so that when opened, they reflect the opposite bookshelves, and continue the impression of being a fully surrounded bibliography.
The structure and all details are developed to emphasise lightness. The library galleries consist of cantilevered L-shaped plates with little apparent structure. The transparency of the structure emphasizes the drama of the full height bookshelves, and gives a lightness, as if the balconies somehow are hovering at high level.
Architect: Studio Seilern Architects
Structural Engineer: TALL Engineers
Services Engineer: Atelier TEN
Lighting Consultant: Sutton Vane Associates
Quantity Surveyor: BAQUS
Contractor: Lamburn Geekie
CULTURAL / EDUCATIONAL