Quarterhouse by Alison Brooks Architects

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London firm Alison Brooks Architects have completed Quarterhouse, an art and business centre in the seaside town of Folkestone, England.

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The project is part of the once popular seaside town's attempt to revitalise its fortunes through arts-led projects.

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The fluted mesh cladding is inspired by scallop shells.

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The following information is from the architects:

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In December 2005 Alison Brooks Architects won the two stage national competition for the design of the Folkestone Arts and Business Centre (‘Quarterhouse’). The 1550sm building is a key element of the arts-led regeneration of Folkestone spearheaded by client The Creative Foundation, a charitable trust.

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The Quarterhouse includes a 220 seat, 500 standing multi-purpose auditorium for music, dance, theatre, film performances and conferences; ground floor foyer and exhibition space; first floor café/bar and a top floor business enterprise centre. The design was developed through 2006, started on site in early summer 2007 and is being completed in February 2009. Funding for the project has come from a £3.5M grant from Kent County Council with a further £500,000 from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).

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Design Concept Statement

The Quarterhouse was conceived as both a ‘beacon’ announcing a new cultural hub for Folkestone, and as a modest ‘bookend’ building completing the curved east facade of late Georgian buildings that form Tontine Street. The building’s most prominent feature, the fluted mesh cladding illuminated from behind at night, took its inspiration from both the maritime iconography of Folkestone – scallop shell window pediments and seaside town paraphernalia - as well as the fragile and translucent texture of the scallop shells that arrive in Folkestone’s harbour every day.

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The cladding was developed to protect the building; provide an illusion of curvature on its flat facades through modulated flute spacing; a reference to stage curtains, and to provide a constantly changing perception of texture and pattern depending on the time of day and quality of light. All of these characteristics are intended to express the animation and movement of the creative life within the building.

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Fundamental to the design of the Quarterhouse is the idea that the building will form a home for Folkestone’s performing arts, a haven for start-up creative businesses and a social hub for the wider public. The building’s name is intended to reinforce this idea - literally the Creative Quarter’s house.

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From competition stage ABA has described the building as Folkestone’s Living Room: an informal place for relaxing, for meeting friends, sharing ideas. The street level ‘shopfront’ and huge glazed façade of the first floor café are key to this concept– a window to the city that communicates inclusivity to the whole of Folkestone.

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Background

At the turn of the last century Folkestone was a fashionable holiday destination, but more recently a combination of ferry port closure, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link bypassing the town and the rise in demand for foreign holidays has caused a gradual deterioration of the town.  To counteract this, The Creative Foundation was established in 2002 by Chairman Roger de Haan to save Folkestone’s architectural heritage and inject a new lease of life into Folkestone’s old town. The Creative Foundation now own 60 individual buildings in central Folkestone, many of which have been refurbished and leased to creative individuals and who have been attracted to the emerging arts quarter.

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Brief

The Creative Foundation’s original competition brief is almost entirely represented in the final building. It called for:

  • A 250 seat, 500 standing multi-purpose auditorium for music, dance, theatre and conferences. (The number of seats was reduced to approximately 220 seats during the design period due to space constraints)
  • A large bar ‘capable of serving capacity audiences swiftly’. There are now 3 bars within the building.
  • Bistro/cafe for 40 covers and commercial kitchen
  • Large foyer/ reception area
  • A business support centre that would ‘offer practical administrative support to the network of creative industry start-ups in the area’. It was intended to include meeting rooms, IT and reprographics suite and a library. This aspect of the brief changed slightly during design development with the building now containing a top floor business enterprise centre- 13 small offices of approximately 15sqm each, a shared reception, meeting room, tea kitchen and toilets.

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Planning Constraints

Quarterhouse is located in Folkestone Leas and Bayle Conservation area, on a site previously occupied by a builder’s yard. Whilst the builder’s yard was of some minor historic interest mainly due to its signage, the existing building was not listed and English Heritage agreed that the benefits gained from a new public building outweighed those from retaining it. Quarterhouse also forms the first constructed part of a masterplan of the Folkestone harbour area produced by architects Foster and Partners. In the masterplan the performing arts centre is identified as a marker building which would form one end of a new link between the town centre and Tontine Street.

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The building was awarded planning permission in a unanimous vote at the Shepway District Council Committee hearing in August 2007 contrary to the advice of the planning department which recommended approval only on condition of the removal of the exterior mesh cladding. Committee members described the exterior cladding, an array of curved expanded metal mesh panels forming back-lit vertical flutes, as an ‘imaginative and innovative solution integral to the building, its role as a theatre and as a beacon for the regeneration of Folkestone.’

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Methods of Construction & Finishes
To provide the optimum acoustic conditions for amplified sound inside the auditorium and isolate the auditorium from the third floor offices and neighbouring buildings the Quarterhouse is based on the principle of creating two concrete boxes; an inner and outer box structurally and acoustically isolated. The inner in-situ concrete box prevents amplified sound escaping from the auditorium and restrains the tensioned wire grid; while the outer concrete block box prevents exterior noise from entering the performance space. Piled foundations support a concrete ground floor slab; structural walls are either insitu concrete or blockwork. Concrete planks are used for upper floors. Steel beams and columns enable the large areas of glazing and cantilever on the east (Tontine Street) side of the building. Interior finishes in public areas include gold Formica, mild steel sheet; polished concrete and fumed oak; Barrisol ceiling and mirrors; the auditorium flooring is fumed oak; mild steel balcony balustrades; retractable seating and gold curtains.

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Credits

Architect - Alison Brooks Architects Ltd.: Alison Brooks; Dominic McKenzie (Project Architect) ; Sophie Bates; Wanja Wechselberger; Marian Beschoner; Michael Woodford; Hikaru Nissanke; James Taylor
Structural Engineer- Akera Engineers
Theatre Consultant- Charcoalblue
M&E Consultant- Atelier Ten
Acoustic Consultant- Sandy Brown Associates
Quantity Surveyor- GPM partnership
Lighting Consultant- Harry S Lloyd Associates
Main Contractor D.J. Ellis Construction Ltd.

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  • estudante

    3rd photo makes it look all out of place. Interesting otherwise.

  • Partick Bateman

    Far too clunky for the fine-grain of the street. it stands out like a cow in a trawlers net.

  • tiens

    What are these Talking Heads-lyrics doing on the other side of the street…?
    ‘Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens’ reflects in the window.

  • Bas

    Love the cladding and how it sticks out!

  • http://www.session23design.com Michael

    I fail to see how this building feels out of place…

    The façade is instantly recognizable as marine inspired. Whether you really get the feeling that it relates to a scallop shell or not is up to your own personal experience. I actually see two other marine forms pronounced in the exterior: ordered concrete pylons that form a breakwall and pier members. To be critical, scallop shells curve in and out like a sine wave. Imagining that form on the exterior is intriguing.

    If you think about the new topology being a breakwater or marine structure, the idea is stronger then just a simple scallop. Scallops are some of the earliest known art objects, but the analogy ends there for me. As a breakwater, holding back the old industrial feel of a harbor town, it protects the arts. Or maybe this breakwater is inward facing protecting the arts from flowing out. Then you puncture the façade with fenestration and control the flow of this tide in and out of the interior and exterior spaces. This gives the building a sense of fluidity and timelessness.

    I am always curious about using metal mesh in salty, humid climates. Not that I think oxidation is always bad, it may work really well in this case. Many scallops are colored, looking like rusting iron. Hopefully I get to visit this building 3-4 years down the road to enjoy it’s full potential. Fantastic job, I like the particularly love the nod to Dan Flavin in the stairwell.

  • Partick Bateman

    michael,
    do you not feel that this reverse-conceptualising of buildings is utterly pointless? i fail to see how this is “marine-inspired”… and marine is a fairly broad definition.
    Anyway, why does it matter what this building signifies? the answer neither adds anything to the aestetics of the building itself, or how it relates to the existing buildings in the street.
    You could quite easily liken the external appearance to a grain silo, a packet of cigarettes or a bunch of rolled up drawings, but obviously these do not fit the ludicrous retro-fitted concepts of scallop shells, breakwaters and theatre curtains.

  • edet

    toilet paper house! wow!

  • Brett

    Definitely thought this was a more techy Shigeru Ban paper-tube building at first…

  • Graeme

    Wow, this is really cool. Love the mesh cladding.

  • estepé

    That’s the nicest façade that I have ever seen.

  • http://www.session23design.com Michael

    Patrick,

    It is not what the building signifies, but what the building is programmed for. This building is programmed for the arts and creative businesses. To be poetic with the façade in this manner is by no means pointless. I like the humor behind making a music shell. This seems both practical and playful and I believe it is tastefully balanced.

    Sure, you can draw up whatever abstract conclusions you want. Maybe the designers were secretly inspired by the silos in Charles Demuth’s, “My Egypt”. Regardless, the more interpretations you draw up, the stronger this building stands as a testament to the very arts it supports.

    How do buildings relate others? Must they all follow the same order and rules like Burnham’s masterplans? That is what makes urban fabric so great, personalization and individuals living in an amalgamation of shapes, forms, colors and styles. Some of the most beautiful cities are in old europe where contemporary clean lines meet thousand year old stone cathedrals. I find the scale of programming and building to be in balance with the existing street and not too bold as to stand out sorely. No project is without criticism, but this building is simple and well conceived.

  • Panda

    Yeah, like toilet paper.

  • Donn

    Likewise, look at how many Corbu buildings look strange when they are photographed amongst their context.

  • Luxury Larry

    Despite all the negative comments, I really like this building alot! Sure it is out of context but what do you do when you are surrounded by the uglies?

  • http://www.redcubemarketing.com Gemma

    Context or not … it’s still a thing of beauty. Simple yet striking.

  • Vincent

    the interior is stunning

    the facade is pants, the SS cylinders different dia are very messy!

  • Rich

    Heaven may be a place where nothing ever happens, but in Folkestone….
    A stunning building, which complements and enhances rather than detracts from the existing context. The facade is original and beautiful, and the interiors skillfully bring to life a tight space.

  • http://www.my-kent.com Richard

    Who writes this rubbish, it is bad enough when the person who wrote the article cannot tell the difference between Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian. Tontine Street was a Tontine started in the Victorian period, there was nothing there before so no Georgian buildings. You begin to understand why Folkestone is on its knees when the people that write about it have never visited the area.

    They write of the success of the Creative Foundation but do not see the artists leaving, they write of the people drawn to the town by art and do not see the empty streets in the Creative Quarter, an area some eighty percent of the locals have never visited. They talk of a theatre that was so badly designed and out of keeping that it looks empty, deserted and abandoned.

    The Creative Quarter has nothing to do with regenerating Folkestone, it is the personal project of Roger De Haan who took over his father’s successful business sold it, bagged a fortune and wonders is he is fathers son? From what we have seen so far he should have stayed on at SAGA and look how that company has blossomed since it was taken over.