Three shining lights of modern architecture in North Wales

From the sandy beaches of Cardigan Bay to the summit of Mount Snowdon, from scenic railway journeys to historic castles, North Wales is steeped in heritage, and a rich, unspoilt natural beauty. Yet, despite the overarching sense of a historical tradition, North Wales has been home, in recent years, to some examples of some striking new public buildings.

Three such buildings are particular noteworthy.

Ruthin Craft Centre

Ruthin, a picturesque town in Denbighshire, is home to a striking-looking craft centre. Come 2004, the previous craft centre had outgrown its facilities and new structure was badly needed. The architects Sergison Bates won the tender. According to a Design Commission For Wales article, the new Craft Centre successfully pays homage to this surrounding landscape:

“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.”

The Visit Wales tourism website notes a certain playfulness and wit which combines attractively with the building’s functionality:

“A quirky zinc roofline adds a delightfully playful touch to this practical-minded gallery and studio complex.”

Caernarvon Arts Centre (Galeri Caernarfon).

The Caernarvon Arts Centre was conceived around 1995, as part of the Caernarvon regeneration project. Richard Murphy Architects won the commission, and the building, sited by beside Victoria Dock, was opened in 2005. This building fits in perfectly with its dockside setting through the ingenious exterior use of steel frame and green oak boarding. The overwhelming impression is of a friendly artisan “boatshed” that gives a warm, but practical, welcome. That workmanlike sense extends to the interior, where performance spaces are aligned with functional offices.

According to the website of the architects behind the project:

“The essence of the idea is that whilst theatres generally spring to life in the evenings, the office side of the building is a daytime activity, and that putting these two functions together, both of which involve creative people, will ensure a building that has an intensity of use all day and evening.”

It looks like this aspiration was realised triumphantly, for the building won a RIBA Gold Award in 2005.

Snowdon Summit Visitor Centre (Hafod Eryri-Snowdon Summit Building)

Finally, it is almost obligatory for any visitor to North Wales to make the ascent (by rail or on foot) to the striking new Snowdon Summit Visitor Centre which opened to the public in 2009. Replacing a weather-worn and inadequate café that was constructed in 1935, the striking new granite and steel building makes an impression of resilience combined with generosity of spirit. The building has garnered praise for the way appears almost to emerge from the stone summit, whilst still meeting the practical needs of visitors of all ages and providing enough space to cater for the influx of outdoor enthusiasts during the summer.

A rave review in Architects Journal from 2009 sums up these positive qualities:

“This is a very good building: tough, generous, friendly, instinctive and interesting. It also, obscurely, acts as an interpretation of the extraordinary despoiled and enjoyed nature of the mountain itself – a bit of human heritage in its own right.”

Posted by Matt Hughes
January 20, 2014
Features

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