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Black Robin Farm

Feilden Fowles Architects in collaboration with Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects are leading the design of a new world-class culture and education centre in the unique landscape of the South Downs National Park for Eastbourne Borough Council and the Towner Gallery. The project aims to connect visitors with the landscape and heritage of the site’s remarkable agricultural Downland setting, through art in the landscape, exhibitions, creative events, learning and maker spaces. The proposals include a new gallery building, learning studios, events spaces, making spaces and a new refectory, with over 2000m2 of existing agricultural fabric being brought into new use. The project is funded through Eastbourne Borough Council’s successful £19.8 million bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

The project is sited at Black Robin Farm, a working farmstead in a gentle valley within the exposed open landscape of the rolling South Downs. The farm offers stunning views out to Birling Gap and Beachy Head. The existing agricultural buildings date from the late 19th century and are arranged in archetypical E-plan formations around foldyards to protect animals from exposure to the harsh winds. The farm was extended throughout the 20th century, giving rise to a tension between two different scales of built fabric, which creates dynamism on the site, and visually tells the story of the evolution of the farm and its landscape. The new proposals are derived from an exploration of these scales and a respect for the as-found agricultural character. Material re-use has been prioritised, with reclaimed brick, lime mortar, flint and landscape excavations forming a working palette born of the site itself.

With steep existing levels across the site offering almost no level access to buildings providing equal access to the landscape is a guiding principle of the proposals, which ensure that the main body of the site will be made fully accessible to both staff and visitors, with level access all the way to the farm’s threshold with surrounding rolling chalk landscape.

The proposals target operational net zero by 2030, prioritising a fabric first approach. Photovoltaics will provide a source of renewable electricity whilst a ground source heat pump array will provide the main site with heating and the gallery with heating and cooling. An unfired brick labyrinth in the new Gallery will passively control the humidity levels in the intake air, reducing reliance on mechanical air handling. The combination of these approaches results in an energy target for the proposed gallery of 85kWh/m2 year, which would represent an exceptionally low demand compared with other major galleries.

Client: Eastbourne Borough Council
End-user: Towner Art Gallery
Location: South Downs, East Sussex
Building Type: Arts, education & cultural centre
Budget: Undisclosed
Time Scale: Commissioned 2022
Current Status: Planning


Landscape Architect: Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects
Structural Engineer: Structure Workshop
Civil Engineer: HOP Consulting Civil Engineers
M&E Engineer: Ritchie + Daffin
Project Manager: Aecom