Ruthin Craft Centre – Denbighshire


Why we like it
The craft centre is a well designed building which responds to the distant landscape, providing a modernised facility which replaced the existing craft centre that has flourished since the 1970s. The existing site is at the edge of the town centre, which means that the building, whilst addressing its immediate site context, is bounded by roads on three sides and has a near impossible pedestrian connection to Ruthin which is disappointing.

Ruthin is a small, historically significant town situated towards the southern reach of the Vale of Clwyd. It lies in the valley floor, bordered by the Clwydian range to the east and Snowdonia to the west. The Ruthin Craft Centre has an international reputation and far-reaching audience. By 2004 the centre’s facilities had become insufficient in both size and quality and a competition was held to find a design team who were able to develop proposals aimed at transforming the centre into a place befitting its international status. Sergison Bates architects, the competition winners, worked closely with the gallery directors to develop a building which responded to this unique set of circumstances and explored connections to both the place in which the centre sits and the work it houses and supports.

Design Process
The design concept aimed to enhance the essential characteristics of the former building, its courtyard typology and its relationship with the surrounding landscape. The courtyard is the principal communal space, creating a protected environment and an important transitional space between the interior and the surrounding town. The restaurant, education room, workshops, studios and entrance hall open directly into this landscaped space with external seating and covered areas.

The external form of the building is a complex composition of sloping roofs, which shift in plan and section and are quietly reminiscent of the Clwydian range seen above the site. Zinc panels of varying width are detailed as a wrapping over roof and wall, with alternating seam arrangement creating a weave pattern. The cast concrete walls are pigmented to give a clay-red hue which establishes a visual link with the local red sandstone found nearby on buildings such as Ruthin Castle. The walls were cast on the ground and then tilted up into place. A combination of surface pattern provides texture and emphasis to the walls.

There are three gallery spaces, arranged so as to allow a variety of routes and sequence of spaces depending on the requirements of changing exhibitions. The shop is located adjacent to the principal entrance, with large windows making it visible from the outside. The restaurant is located on the northern side of the courtyard with a south-facing terrace. A high level window on the north-eastern side provides a long distance view of the Clwydian range behind. Adjacent to the restaurant, six workshop studios are arranged in a row with service entrances on the north side and ‘shop-front’ entrances on the courtyard side. The education room, two studios for artists in residence, the Tourist Information Centre and the administration areas are located on the southern side with entry and views into the courtyard. In this way, the different functions of the Centre have a close physical relationship with the daily activities visible, adding life and activity, but retaining a degree of autonomy.

From the outset it was agreed that the building should explore a passive environmental design. Applied art, unlike fine art, is more forgiving of atmospheric conditions and this allowed the main gallery spaces to work with natural ventilation and relatively high level of natural light. Careful apportioning of glazing maximises solar gain to the south, especially for the more sparsely occupied studio spaces whilst the heavy-weight construction used throughout provides thermal mass to help stabilise temperatures within the centre. Smaller scale rooflights are distributed across the studios and education spaces so that daylight is maximised and use of electric light can be kept to a minimum. There were a number of collaborations that were fundamental to the development of the project and which enrich the scheme. In all cases, the relationship was one of collaboration in which there was a sharing of ideas and material exploration. Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley made furniture throughout the centre, including large benches in the courtyard whilst Brian Podschies made the weave-like gates which enclose the courtyard at night.

The design development of the scheme started in December 2004 and was completed eight months later, prior to a planning application being submitted in August 2005. Construction started on site in April 2007 and was completed by July 2008.

Sustainability Credentials
The Centre for the Applied Arts in Ruthin addresses the issues of sustainability and use of resources in a number of ways. It does not rely on “active” approaches such as the use of photovoltaic panels, solar panels or wind turbine equipment. Instead the design is based on using the “passive” elements of the building envelope itself (walls, floors, openings etc.) to create comfortable internal environments throughout the year with the minimum amount of equipment, such as mechanical ventilation or air conditioning. In this way the base energy needs of the building can be reduced. The possibility of adding active systems is always available to further enhance energy performance.

Natural Ventilation:
The building has been planned to allow as many spaces as possible to be provided with fresh air ventilation using opening windows and rooflights following the guidance in the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) publication “Natural Ventilation in non-domestic buildings”. Openings on opposing sides of spaces allow crossflow ventilation even in the larger, deep plan rooms. The large gallery space is also ventilated in this way, avoiding the need for energy using mechanical fans, made possible by the approach to the display of precious objects (requiring specific temperature and humidity control) which is based on the use of controlled display cases rather than air conditioning the entire gallery volume.

Thermal Mass:
The walls and floor of the building have deliberately been chosen to be of heavyweight construction including materials such as concrete and heavyweight plaster finishes, rather than a lightweight construction. These materials are exposed on the inside of the rooms which allows them to absorb and release heat/energy during a typical day. This “thermal mass” has the effect of making the building respond more slowly to changes in outside temperatures i.e. it will be naturally warmer in winter and cooler in summer than a lightweight building, reducing the energy needed to maintain comfortable inside temperatures. The gallery rooflight design allows them to be left open during the night in the warmer summer months, whilst maintaining security and weather tightness, to allow the cooler night air to purge the building of heat which builds up during the day. The heavy structure can store “coolth” (rather like a night storage heater in reverse) helping to reduce temperatures inside the galleries the next day without resorting to air conditioning.

Glazing, daylight and insulation
The amounts of glazing in the external walls are modest so as to reduce winter heat loss and summer heat gain. Rooflights are used extensively to make sure that internal daylight levels are good, allowing less reliance on electric lighting during hours of daylight. Insulation levels in the external walls, roof and floor slab are generous, further reducing the base year round energy needs.

Orientation and elevations
The spaces to the north and south of the courtyard (mainly Studio Workshops) deliberately have larger (taller) elevations on their southern side and smaller (lower) northern elevations to take maximum benefit from useful winter sun to reduce heating energy needs. Any available solar energy is stored in the thermally massive building structure. Roof overhangs on the southern sides of these spaces are small to improve solar access. The gallery spaces which are generally more densely occupied (more heat from people) and have heat generating display lighting have a lesser need for solar energy and so do not have any windows on their southern side and use north facing rooflights. The main issue in these spaces is to prevent overheating.

BREEAM rating/ Code for Sustainable Homes level:
SBEM v3.2.b using IES Virtual Environment as the interface.

Designers Evaluation 

  • The Ruthin Craft Centre is much more than a craft gallery. The complexity of its programme and the boldness of its design make it a focal point of cultural life and a civic facility with the potential for extending its influence to the town beyond its walls.
  • The design, with the communal courtyard at its heart, allows the separate activities the Centre accommodates to converge in a place where human encounters are encouraged by the opportunities the space provides for sharing experiences and creating relations.
  • The building forms an enclosed, welcoming open air space for the town residents which can be used for public events and gatherings and acts as a catalyst for socialising.
  • The powerful sculptural presence of the Centre balances boldness and attention to the context making formal reference to local culture in terms of materials, known forms and the surrounding landscape: the concrete walls which were cast in situ and tilted up into place are pigmented in a warm clay hue that recalls the significant civic building built in the local red sandstone; the undulating zinc roof is reminiscent of the industrial sheds it is surrounded by, but also evokes the silhouette of the Clwydian range on the horizon.
  • Ultimately, the design engages strongly with its context and becomes a focus for the community, while fulfilling the ambition to provide an inspirational setting for the Centre’s imaginative curatorial policy and high international profile.

Project Summary
Location: Ruthin
Date Completed: 15 July 2008
Client: Philip Hughes, Director of Ruthin Craft Centre
Architect: Sergison Bates LLP
Other consultants: Client’s consultant: MN Arts Associates, Landscape architects: Pat Brown with Landscape Interface Studio, Structural engineers: Greig Ling Consulting Engineers, Services engineers: Building Design Partnership, Lighting consultants: Building Design Partnership Lighting, Quantity Surveyors: Smith Turner Associates Ltd, Artists/makers: Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley; Brian Podschies
Planning Authority: Denbighshire County Council
Funding body: Arts Council Wales LotteryWelsh Assembly GovernmentDenbighshire County CouncilRuthin Town CouncilCadwyn Clwyd
Contract value: £ 3.2 million
Project type: Public Building
Full address: Ruthin Craft Centre, Ruthin, Clwyd LL15 1BB