The solution to the Rothschild Archive is very much tied up in the name of the site, Windmill Hill. The Hill is one of the few elevated vantage points in South Bucks and as such is fortunate in having huge views over the surrounding countryside.
On visiting the site for the first time it struck me that there were three principle views, directly south, to the southwest and to the west. The archive building and courtyard spaces are set out to bring these views into the building and courtyard. The western view in particular is “trapped” within the large opening defined by the 25m beam.
Even before arriving at the site for the project significant changes were made to the Estate access road to bring in spectacular views out to the north and west. The approach road was diverted north of the great wood allowing distant views of the manor house, the historic heart of the estate, and then a gradual curve was formed taking in the vast horizon of the surrounding countryside until finally dropping to the formal arrival courtyard adjacent to the archive group.
There was always the intention to bring the existing red brick farmhouse into the composition of the new project. Indeed at one time the intention was to re-use many of the agricultural outbuildings as the new archive but this proved impractical due to their bad condition. The proportion of new building compared to the farmhouse was such that a method had to be found to re-dress the balance; hence the archive offices and archive store are conceived to an extent as continuations of the farmhouse. The same roof tile and details are used as the farmhouse and the buildings are clad in “louvered” timber, similar to the barns and sheds of the diary farm previously on the site. This move allows the reading room; courtyard and office building to take on a contemporary expression with rendered walls, zinc roofs and minimal landscape.
The brief for the project comprises space for the Rothschild Foundation Archive and office space for the charity investment organisation. The archive space includes the main library reading room, offices for archive staff and the archive stores themselves. These three activities are formed round three sides of a sloping garden with the fourth side open to views to the south.
The charity investment offices are within a two-story space across the courtyard garden from the reading room. This building contains, meeting rooms and open plan office space set within a building similar in appearance to the archive group.
Between the office building and the archive group is situated the courtyard. This space is very important as it provides a formally landscaped garden that serves as the arrival courtyard to the whole project. It is very much seen as a large outdoor room and is planted in a “detailed” manner with loose Alemanchier trees and squares of taxus. Visitors by car would be dropped off at the lowered car point. Here the taxus hedge screens all views. The visitor walks up the steps into the arrival courtyard and on turning at the top experiences one of the best views of Ashendon to the west. This is the framed view, made more dramatic by the reflecting views on either side. Also within this arrival courtyard is the free standing oak screen to the reading room that offers shade and privacy. The square is very much a minimal space that over time will house sculpture and rare planting.
3.0 Materials / Construction / Details
The previous agricultural use of the site is strongly echoed in the materials and details. The principal materials are stone, oak, glass and render. Doors are formed in ledged braces and walls are rendered with simple openings. Windows are oak with oak shutters.
The reading room and gallery roof structure takes the form of an oak diagrid. This structure has no steel and is formed from a geometric structure grid. Lights are recessed up into structure to form a simple wooden fabric.
The buildings are heated from below, again to simplify spaces. The archive store itself will be one of Britain’s largest naturally cooled archive spaces. Heating to spaces is partly provided by ground source heat pumps driven by heat piles.
The intention of the choice of materials and the method of detailing is to create a simple series of spaces that capture the light and make places that are comfortable and enjoyable to work/study in.
The overall landscaping forms a “cradle” for the new project. A large bank of trees has been introduced to the north east of the project onto which the new buildings attached themselves. The bank also screens the new buildings from view until the arrival courtyard.
The immediate vicinity of the building is cushioned with special trees and extensive willow planting.
The courtyard planting is very much seen as a small piece of the manor house landscape in the Waddesdon tradition. Boxes are formed in taxus and there are mature flowering trees.
The southern courtyard is formed as one continuous rolling surface and will be used for outdoor sitting in fine weather.
5.0 Furniture, Lighting
Generally the concept has been to adopt “light touch”, classic modern pieces, primarily from Charles Eames and Vitra. We were asked to design the reading room tables that are formed from large cantilevered slabs of oak. The table lights are an echo of the form of the archive store, whilst the main lighting for the reading room is recessed up within the roof structure out of view.
Traditional farm plans adopt a “grouping” or courtyard arrangement. This is to give protection from the wind, particularly during lambing when farmers have to travel between house and barn continuously.
Traditional farm detailing employs the use of the vertical louvre. This is to allow fresh air to enter space for animals whilst removing the strength of the wind.
These two very agricultural elements are at the heart of the visual expression of the new archive group. They are held within a composition of rendered walls wood cladding and zinc roofs, again all primarily agricultural materials.
The great thing at Waddesdon is that all this agricultural “stuff” is fashioned to take in the fantastic views whilst housing not cows or sheep, but the marvellous historic collection of the Rothschild Foundation archives.
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