Cullinan Throws a Curve
by Don Barker
As the sun rises on a damp, misty morning in the heart of England's South Downs, you can hear the large shimmering giant creak as it awakens. These organic curves are a rarity — the Downland Gridshell is only one of five such structures in the world. It was designed by Edward Cullinan Architects, engineered by Buro Happold, and short-listed for the 2002 Stirling Prize.
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in the Sussex Downs hosts a collection of 15th-to-19th-century buildings that record the history of rural life in southern England. Two years ago, the museum management decided to consolidate its workshop and artifact facilities in one location. They wanted a place to lay out and restore parts of old houses as well as to display and store artifacts that had long been hidden away off site.
Although they initially had a less ambitious project in mind, the result has been a remarkable combination of 21st century design with traditional building skills. Design and construction were a team effort by local carpenters and boat builders, museum staff, architects, engineers, and scaffolders.
The top level of the two-story wooden structure is the huge, airy, wooden "gridshell" workshop supported by a heavy concrete storage area dug into the chalk hillside below.
As Steve Johnson of Edward Cullinan Architects explains, "A shell is a natural, extremely strong structure. A gridshell is essentially a shell with holes, with its structure concentrated into strips." >>>
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The Downland Gridshell in the south of England, designed by Edward Cullinan Architects and Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, is only one of five such structures in the world.
Photo: Don Barker
The Downland Gridshell structure was formed from long, thin oak laths. Inside is the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Photo: Don Barker
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