Issue 02 | Architecture

Lay of the land

Wakefield, United Kingdom

Feilden Fowles’ reposed gallery and visitor space for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Yorkshire is God’s own country, as any of its more fervent inhabitants will tell you – and the beauty of this verdant, rugged county in the north of England is hard to refute. Yet, the reverence with which the early Victorians regarded the landscape, inherited from the Romantic movement and the work of Wordsworth, Blake and Shelley, belied their desire to shape and control it. At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – 500 acres peppered with art by internationally renowned sculptors such as Henry Moore, Anthony Gormley and Ai Wei Wei – architects Feilden Fowles have used this idea of the orchestration of nature to design a new gallery and visitors’ centre, The Weston.

The vistas, lakes and mounds that lend the park its character are largely the 19th-century work of landscape designer Robert Marnock, created when the site was still the parkland that served Bretton Hall. “What really interested us was the history of shaping the land for the benefit of the country house,” says Feilden Fowles’ co- founder Edmund Fowles. Looking beyond the boundaries of their discipline, the practice explored the work of landscape artists Robert Morris and Michael Heizer to seed an idea. The site, on the south-eastern side of the park, makes the final point in a triangle of buildings, which also comprises Feilden Clegg Bradley’s restaurant and gallery to the north and Tony Fretton’s rustic Longside Gallery to the south.

The Weston is deceptively long, housing a gallery, restaurant and shop within an oblong of concrete, timber and glass. The building’s presence is betrayed by a lantern of glass-reinforced plastic, which, depending on the time of day, shifts from opaque to translucent, revealing or obscuring a sawtooth roof that coaxes light into the gallery within. Beneath the lantern rests a concrete slab pigmented with locally sourced granite, lime and sandstone sandblasted to recall the strata of the natural bedrock – a precise exercise in imperfection. The building continues with a sequence of timber-framed windows that embrace a sunken terrace overlooking the Lower Lake and the distant Bretton Hall. At the main entrance (on the motorway side), harmonious geological landscaping by Jonathan Cook offers a protective frame to the architecture.

What really interested us was the history of shaping the land for the benefit of the country house

The Weston’s willingness to meld with or melt into the landscape demonstrates the power of things left unsaid. Anchored to centuries-old earth, Feilden Fowles’ building is totally at ease with itself, neither timid nor overbearing. It will no doubt prove an excellent foil for the growing number of galleries it joins – a worthy addition, well executed.