This posting on the website is to inform members of the current status of the St Barbe Museum planning application and the Lymington Society’s proposed response to it. It follows the meeting that took place on 10 February on which there is a brief report. It also follows the submission of the formal planning application which needs to be responded to by 1 May. The Committee have already taken time to consider the application and the following is an analysis of that consideration in the Committee’s current views.
The application by the Museum for substantial amendments to the Museum including a new frontage, results from a successful Heritage lottery bid.
The successful bid is linked to an imaginative plan by Bryan Avery who is an architect of international repute who originated from Lymington.
The need expressed by the Museum is to emphasise and enhance the frontage of the Museum to give it the status which is anticipated by the lottery bid. At the moment the frontage is described as low-key and the entrance compared to a doctors surgery. This is overcome by a design which is confident and says “look at me”.
The existing building itself has merit as a good example of a Victorian school but the frontage of that school faces onto School Lane and the current frontage of the Museum is the side of the original school, but with a glass entrance porch built onto it which gives rise to the comment that it resembles the entrance to a doctors surgery.
The initial assessment by the planning officer in response to the application states as follows in the following relevant extracts
This is a prominent building located on the west side of New Street on the corner of School Lane within Lymington Conservation Area. The building was originally built as a school in 1835, subsequent wing additions took place in the mid-19th century with later extensions to the east and west which provided for a varied build form. Most of these extensions are fairly simple although the post 1850 room on the south-east corner of New Street has a more interesting gable end with a tripartite window and decorated barge board. Although this is not a statutory listed building it is a building of local historic interest and a local landmark in the conservation area. The area is very mixed in character comprising mixed commercial and residential uses with public conveniences located immediately to the south of the site in New Street.
The proposal is to provide a new entrance facade and increase the width of the opening/entrance to the building to make a feature of the entrance by forming an outside seating area,, the erection of a high wall (about 6.5 m high [7 m above street level], in the form of a crinkle crankle wall), a further section of brickwork at right angles to the road with the name of the Museum attached (as high as the main crinkle crankle wall), a canopy over the entrance along with other associated works to improve the Museum and Gallery. The existing porch which was built in the mid-1990s would be removed.
The main issue for consideration in respect of this proposal is the impact of the development on the character and appearance of the conservation area and this building of local importance.
There is no doubt that the proposed changes would result in a dramatic change the appearance of the site in views along the street. The existing gable features facing new Street would be completely obsecured by the new wall which would create a very imposing front elevation to the street
This proposal needs very careful consideration to establish whether the changes would have an acceptable impact in particular the wall elements of the scheme”
The Lymington Society’s Committee adopts those views and gives its consideration in the light of those views.
Firstly it is accepted that any new facade having an impact on the street scene would be likely to lose the features of the original building. The Committee feel that the gable end window whilst an important feature, is not one which needs to be retained in the overall new frontage. Any suggestion that the frontage should be amended or reduced to incorporate this feature would make any overall change to the scheme unworkable.
The Committee like the concept of the outside terrace seating area and the wide frontage with its invitation to enter and explore the museum itself.
To overcome the conflict between a wide open glass frontage, which is obviously attractive and compatible with the street scene, and the existing gable ends of the original school buildings, the architect has masked the existing building by the concept of a brickwork frame rising above the open glass frontage which comprises a wavy wall and rises to height of approximately 20 feet. The new pillar for the display of the name would be of a similar height.
That height would be higher than the adjoining building, which is the public convenience, but would be much lower than any other surrounding buildings, particularly the very dominant Baptist Church on the other side of the New Street, which itself has an imposing frontage with a high-level porch accessed by steps on each side.
The remainder of New Street is completely disjointed in its architecture. On one side of the road is the traditional building of the Literary Institute, the car park for the Baptist Church and the Baptist Church itself. On the same side of the road is a modern shop building then the public conveniences, the Museum, and on the other side of School Lane some traditional Victorian housing, then the solid square format of the furniture depository which is to be renovated into flats.
If the proposal was passed, into this very mixed street scene, this design would insert a lengthy frontage of glass entranceway topped by a high wavy wall, which in itself may seem high, but if lower would create an inconsistency or conflict between the glass entranceway and the wall and the angular gable ends of the Museum behind.
The initial effect of the frontage is the apparently unsupported wall rising up for the only real purpose of providing an imposing frontage and obscuring the building behind. The wall blends into the upright pillar on the right-hand side of the frontage but on the left-hand side does not have any return or apparent visual support.
Initially the design is surprising and has created a significant amount of controversy within the Town with many people feeling it is not in keeping with the existing architecture of the Town. There is no doubt that if it was set in a Victorian or Georgian street scene it would be incongruous.
It could be said to be a leap of faith to agree to it in a location relatively close to the main Georgian High Street. However there are no important features down New Street, from the High Street to the Museum which is without great architectural merit.
The Committee takes the view that it is an important consideration that there were a couple of buildings of a modern design recently erected of nearby for community purposes, notably the Fuller McClellan Hall adjacent to the Community Centre, which has a wavy roof which initially might have looked incongruous, but now has no critics. There is the library further away which is a great success in its location.
The Committee’s view is that this is a particular design for a particular community public building which, whilst it may not be justified for any private or commercial building, is justified for a public building, for which the design has a particular purpose, to encourage its use and benefit the community.
There has been a meeting of the members of the Society at which numerous questions were asked to clarify the design and a lot of the answers were accepted. There still remains, however, considerable controversy from comments in newspapers and on the local blogs and websites.
The Committee are conscious of the fact of approving a design which may continue to give rise to controversy in the future. The Committee appreciate that Lymington is a town still with predominantly traditional architecture but that there have been examples of modern architecture which have fitted well into that environment.
This they believe will be one of those examples although it will no doubt continue to cause controversy during its erection and following its completion but the Committee believe it would come to be accepted as part of the Lymington street scene in that particular location.
The Committee take the view that the design will stand the test of time and is not something which will be considered only “of the moment” so that it will become dated relatively quickly.
The test possibly is whether, when it has been built, a new visitor to Lymington looking at it would accept it without comment as a natural part of the street scene or whether it would continue to be considered to be out of place. Given its location the committee feel that the design will be acceptable in the long term without detriment to the overall character of the Town.
Each of the Community Centre hall, the library and now the Museum frontage is built for a particular purpose and does not provide a precedent further buildings of the same type except where absolutely appropriate.
The Lymington Society Committee having taken the views expressed by its members, and accepting that a significant number of members and residents may have reservations which they have not expressed to the Committee, are not intending to object to the proposed design.