How do you build a new, 2580 sq m museum without it getting in the way? That was the conundrum facing architecture practice Carmody Groarke when it won the competition for the Windermere Jetty – a £20m development that tells the story of 200 years of boats, boating and boat building in the Lake District. After all, the surrounding landscape has recently been awarded Unesco World Heritage status after inspiring painters such as Turner. William Wordsworth went to school across the lake in Hawkshead, while John Ruskin had a home around the corner on Coniston Water. It is by any yardstick breathtakingly beautiful – an architect needs to tread carefully.
Carmody Groarke’s answer was to create a cluster of small, low-slung buildings, largely clad in oxidised copper and with pitched roofs that bunch around a wet dock. The idea is that they reflect the area’s history and culture but also echo the working life that has gone on around the water – effectively combining what the practice’s co-founder, Andy Groarke, describes as ‘the picturesque and the industrial’.
While their exteriors have a uniform aesthetic, complete with over-hanging eaves that are absolutely vital on wet days, inside each building performs a different function and includes a variety of finishes. So the reception, for instance, is lined with Douglas Fir, while the adjacent exhibition space has more of a white cube, gallery feel.
Standing slightly askance from the other structures – and one metre lower to make it easier to get boats in and out of the water on the newly-built slipway – is the conservation workshop, where visitors will be able to watch vessels being restored.
At the heart of the development is the wet dock that allows the lake to come inside and which will eventually house 14 or so boats. As Groarke points out: ‘It’s a “coats-on” experience in this museum. It’s about walking between the inside and outside.’ Perhaps most importantly though, the architect has used the opportunity to frame some extraordinary views, both between the spaces and out across the water. It was, he says, all about creating something that didn’t ‘destabilise or threaten the scale of the place’.
The new development is projected to attract 100,000 people a year. So successful is it though that I suspect the owners, Lakeland Arts, may well have under-estimated. Groarke and his partner Kevin Carmody have pulled off the neat trick of creating a new museum that is both subtle – from the water it fades into the surrounding tree canopy and (deliberately or not) echoes the shapes of the pre-fab holiday homes a little further along the shore – but also somehow unapologetic. In other words it’s a fine piece of work.