Contemporary art dealers Hauser & Wirth’s rural outpost near Bruton in Somerset, is an antidote to the idea of the gallery as an urban white cube. Housed in a series of listed farm buildings and finished in 2014, the gallery is a complex of spaces: Parisian architect Luis Laplace of Laplace & Co restored existing buildings, then created an enclosed courtyard space by building two new gallery spaces. The courtyard is filled by a garden designed by Piet Oudolf, and the complex is rounded off by a restaurant in the former cowshed, the Roth Bar & Grill, and the farmhouse, a place where artists in residence can add to the layers of history already revealed during the course of its renovation. Here, Luis Laplace talks about this extraordinary project came together.
This seems like a once-in-a-lifetime project – is it close to your heart?
Yes this project it is very close to me, mainly because Manuela and Iwan [Wirth] are very close friends, and we spent endless time talking about it with other friends and artists.
Was taking on such a complex series of buildings difficult?
Every project has its own challenges. The only obvious thing was to preserve the integrity of the farm and not to make an unnecessary statement. The rest came along with a lot of work and time.
Where did the idea come from of forming a courtyard/cloister by closing in the existing space with the two new galleries?
The cloister was my idea, and the reason for it is simple: I needed to welcome and face what was going to be the space for Piet [Oudolf] to develop his garden. The existing buildings were perpendicular to the main road and not to the garden space. The cloister became a design source to respond to an architectural need. The old buildings are juxtaposed one next to the other and they grow organically. We thought that the new buildings should be built in the same way, and by rotating the new buildings we created a ring and therefore the cloister.
Your practice is known for designing art galleries – can you explain the particular challenges of designing spaces for this type of use?
A gallery needs to remain neutral and flexible enough to be able to respond to the needs of different artists with different medias. I also think that light is key for the art. In any case, I think that management of natural light is a crucial factor for the success of any project. I also believe in proportions, which in my case I measure intuitively.
What was your design concept for the new galleries?
I wanted to create a space that could live in harmony with the existing buildings. The cloister is the heart of the project, and ties up art, nature and architecture. I wanted the new buildings to look new – but new does not mean high-tech forms and materials, Guggenheim-style.
Do the new galleries have a different character to the old buildings? Are there remnants of their old agricultural use?
Yes, they are completely different. The old spaces were designed to be agricultural spaces for animals and crop storage; some of those spaces, where the stonework was very solid, were only restored, but some of them needed to be insulated to comply to today’s regulations, and those became slicker spaces and a ‘hinge’ to the new buildings.
Because the new spaces were designed as art galleries from scratch, they look very different. There is also a narrative among the use of materials, which changes from agricultural to something more suitable for a gallery – for example, agricultural concrete floors become polished concrete floors in the new galleries.
How do the buildings relate to the wider countryside? Are there views out, or is it more insular?
The existing buildings are well anchored in the landscape, but in general farms never take in consideration the views – it’s all about the farming functionality. But context is still key in my work, and somehow you always know that you are in Somerset and on a farm.
Can you tell me about your design thinking behind renovating the farmhouse?
That is a very long one… The farmhouse it is almost a different exercise. This space is for living. I wanted to create a space that was convivial but yet different because we were in a unique environment. We invited artists like Guillermo Kuitca and Pipilotti Rist to intervene in the architecture with their works. Guillermo took over the dining room space and created this incredible atmosphere that is unique – you need to see it to understand – and Pipi took over the living room and intervened with one of her projections in a very intimate way.
While I saw the artists developing their ideas, I needed to create a language for the house that was a good support for that. During the process of the renovation I discovered multiple layers of paint colours and wallpapers. All of a sudden the history of the house was revealed to us and I thought that that was incredible. That became the departing point for the project. The art-filled farmhouse is available for rent.
Finally, how does the restaurant fit into the overall design ethos?
While the cloister is the heart I think the restaurant is the brain of the project. The space used to be a cowshed, and normally these type of spaces are quite narrow, so this became the biggest constraint. Manuela and Iwan invited the Roth family to do the bar, this was another incredible experience. Working with artists is always great, and I often find the answers to problems after having a chat with them.
They wanted the space not to be like a restaurant but rather like an extension of their home and universe. Manuela is an excellent cook, and I often have meetings with her while she is in the kitchen preparing dinner for the family, and there is always one of the kids around helping her out. So while she is at one end of her kitchen island in action I do the talking and watch her. I recreated this idea of making the guest participate of the cooking. It is a contagious activity – I always end up joining in, I can’t resist being part of it.
I wanted the guest to know exactly how everything happens, the creative process of a kitchen is messy and there is nothing wrong with that. Today I love to see Steve the cook developing conversations with strangers who are curious about the recipes using the farm products.
All images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Photography: Alex Delfanne, Aaron Schuman and Hélène Binet