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Downland Gridshell

 
02
MAR 10
The Downland Gridshell can be found at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, West Sussex. It was finished in 2002 and is a beautiful building.

I took these pics a little time after the Gridshell opened. Unfortunately I was unable to take photographs of the interior that day, but it is even more impressive from the inside. It was designed by Buro Happold and Edward Cullinan and is a self-supporting structure made of oak sourced in Normandy, France. It was runner-up for the Stirling Prize in 2002 missing out to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

I've always been interested in buildings like this. They always feel to me to be a true statement of the beauty of natural materials and show us that when they are designed well, buildings can truly become the environment in which they stand and even enhance their surroundings. It also shows off the strength and versatility of oak and the Gridshell will no doubt stand for as long as the other historic buildings at the Weald and Downland Museum.

Front elevation of the Downland Gridshell

Front elevation

Side elevation of the Downland Gridshell

Side elevation

The entrance

Entrance

Rear elevation of the Downland Gridshell

Rear elevation

Updated: October 2011

I recently visited the Downland Gridshell again and got a chance to take some photos of both the interior and exterior.

Since my last visit when I took the photo's above, the building has matured beautifully in the landscape and as you approach it is almost invisible, no mean achievement for a building of it's length and size. What immediately strikes you the closer you get to it is just how sympathetic it is to the surrounding environment. It's situated within the weald the area between the two parallel chalk escarpments of the north and south downs, and it's undulating roof perfectly mimics the rolling landscape of the area.

This time around I attended a tour of the interior of the gridshell and learnt a little more about its construction and the process used to build it. The principles are on the face of it very simple. Take a flat plane, bend it and hold it under tension. In practice though the physics are a lot more complex and I'm doing a big dis-service to the talented architects who created this amazing building. For me one of the most interesting aspects of the gridshell is the mixture of tradtional natural oak for the shell and the modern computer modelling and software that made the whole thing possible. A building like this cannot be drawn and planned using a pencil and paper like traditional structures, it has to be created and imagined and push the boundaries of what's possible.

The most striking thing about the interior of the building is the unobstructed space it creates. This fulfils both the practical and the aesthetic. Practically it fulfils the primary purpose of the building which is to re-construct old buildings requiring restoration, but aesthetically it has a cathedral like quality and it's height and length defines a space that inspires us to want to achieve great things.

I think its clear that I like the gridshell and that it ticks many of the boxes I look for in an inspirational building. I've always liked architecture and interesting buildings but the gridshell is something very different. I highly recommend visiting this unique structure and urge you to experience it, because it's unlike any building you have been to.

Below are my most recent photographs.

Front entrance of the Downland Gridshell

Front entrance

Front entrance of the Downland Gridshell

Front entrance

Side elevation of the Downland Gridshell

Side elevation

Side elevation detail of the Downland Gridshell

Side elevation detail

Interior space of the Downland Gridshell

Interior space

Roof detail of the Downland Gridshell

Roof detail

Interior space of the Downland Gridshell

Interior space

Interior space of the Downland Gridshell

Interior space