Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre was a product of the progressive, community-minded idealism of the late 1960s which found expression in local, grass-roots initiatives like adventure playgrounds, city farms and other community development projects. Founded to serve both artists and the wider community, Chapter can count itself among such radical projects, but it is unusual; it has not only survived to the present day, but thrived, without losing touch with its founding objectives. Today, its rolling programme of over 1000 exhibitions, screenings and performances attracts more than 800,000 visitors each year, double the pre-refurbishment total.
The task for Ash Sakula was to augment and improve the function of this organisation without diminishing its radical spirit by making over the Edwardian school building that it had occupied for over forty years. Opening the renovated building, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said: “The new Chapter looks stunning!” It is not surprising then that since it re-opened, the number of visitors to Chapter has doubled.
To open up the building, we carved out a broad shaft of public space, making it possible for you to walk through the building and out the far side. We fostered a welcoming, inclusive ambiance by forming niches and spaces that created different reasons to use the building, with snug areas in which to meet or work and a 34-metre bar, the longest in Wales, as well as covered and open-air outdoor space. In a series of sensible, achievable moves, we made spaces and connections legible. From the café, you can see the steps up to the theatre and the gallery is ‘right there’. As Rory Olcayto said in the Architects Journal, “Everything is where it has always been. It’s just easier to find and it looks better.”
Ash Sakula’s usual attention to colour and finish is in evidence and creates an ambience, well attuned to the spirit of Chapter, that succeeds in being both reassuring and exciting. Original Edwardian glazed tilework, previously concealed, has been allowed to speak out. Supersize lettering, vintage wallpapers and elements of strong colour have been deployed to good effect. The palette of architectural textures - brickwork, timber lathes, whitewashed stonework and two-colour tarmac - makes the space feel grounded and robust. Over the front entrance, a fifteen-metre lightbox is an opportunity to show site-specific graphic works, while also illuminating the first-floor cinema lobby behind it.
Architect: Ash Sakula
Contractor: WRW Group
Project Manager: CPC
Structural Engineer: AKT
M+E Engineer: Michael Popper
Cost Consultant: Appleyards DWB
Acoustics Consultant: Paul Gillieron Acoustic Design
Access Consultant: Emma McMullan
Site area: 7,132 m2
Cost per m2: £562
Completed: November 2009
RIBA/RSAW Award for Architecture 2010
Eisteddfod Gold Medal for Architecture
Building’s energy performance improved to exceed Building Regulations
Existing boilers replaced with high-efficiency condensing boilers
Heating controls carefully zoned for better efficiency
New roof, walls and windows are highly insulated.
Low energy lighting with intelligent controls
CO2 emissions: 57.57 kgCO2/m2
www.chapter.org Architect’s Journal cover article 11 March 2010: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/chapter-arts-centre-cardiff-by-ash-sakula-architects/5215220.article