Activists in historic preservation often are asked "when is a building too far gone to save?" British architects Haworth Tompkins demonstrate that when there is a will, the answer is never. At Aldeburgh Music’s ‘creative campus’ is based at Snape Maltings in Suffolk, Archdaily describes how "Nestled within the shell of an abandoned building, the firm responded to the existing conditions with a touch of sensitivity, uniting the old structure with the new aesthetic.
They didn't have much to start with. The architects write:
Only the minimum necessary brickwork repairs were carried out to stabilise the existing ruin prior to the new structure being inserted. Decaying existing windows were left alone and vegetation growing over the dovecote was protected to allow it to continue a natural process of ageing and decay.
The shell of the new building was prefabricated out of self-weathering steel that has its own patina of aging and decay.
The new form expresses the internal volume of the Victorian structure as a Cor-ten steel 'lining', a welded monocoque that was prefabricated and craned into position.
Interior materials and finishes are basic; the walls are lined in spruce plywood, " a timber 'box' within the Cor-ten shell."
A large north light roof window provides even light for artists, while a small mezzanine platform with a writing desk incorporates a fully opening glazed corner window that gives long views over the marshes towards the sea.
To top it all off, these guys still know how to draw.
Where I live, heritage activists have just lost yet another battle to save the last bits of our industrial heritage in Brantford, Ontario. The politicians and the letters to the editor scream that these buildings are a blight and should be swept away. Yet in Suffolk, Alfred Brendel can write:
Snape Maltings is one of those rare artistic places where the buildings, the people who visit and work there, the magical setting, come together and enable you to do something out of the ordinary.
But as I have seen time and time again, and as Haworth Tompkins and Aldeburgh Music have demonstrated at Dovecote Studios, it has far less to do with the buildings than it does with the people.