I figured I should probably put up my brief before launching into sketches of my work. Have cut it down quite a bit, the GSA have long briefs.
In its heyday Penicuik was at the centre of the paper making industry, not only within its Scottish context but as a worldwide leader in the production and distribution of this vital commodity. The town’s location was fundamental in its development as a paper making centre, with an abundant supply of water and power from the River Esk, a supply of rags from Edinburgh, and a position in Scotland close to the coast for international trade. Its location now is also influential in its evolutionary development, that of a dormitory town for Scotland’s capital city.
Unlike many rural communities which are suffering from the endemic social and economic problems of depopulation, lack of investment, an aging community and low local employment opportunities, this is not the case with Penicuik. The town’s population has grown and the demographics are not untypical, but has this growth been too rapid and great over a relatively short period of time?
Several major supermarkets have moved into the town, but away from the retail core, and local services and places for community gatherings such as the library and associated community venues; have also moved away from the town centre.
The impact has been a slow erosion of the core of the town, which now houses a few eateries and public houses alongside the down market retail stores. A realignment of the main road has allowed the creation of a pedestrian precinct that extends from the High Street. The streetscaping is banal and anonymous and Penicuik past identity seems now to be lost. The once self sufficient community has now gone and a different town has gradually emerged. A new identity for Penicuik is vital if it is to remain strong and individual and find its way forward into the 21st century.
The town study has opened your eyes to the past, present and possible future of Penicuik. The next step is to bring these ideas together in the design of a small public building that will have a sustainable agenda in the context of Penicuik and its surrounding context, and will have the role of catalyst in the rebirth of its ailing town centre.
Designers of public buildings are compelled to improve the quality of the external public realm in terms of townscape and in the internal public realm of the public facility provided. Accordingly you are offered the opportunity to situate a proposed literary venue within the town context of Penicuik, with the possibility of contributing to the ‘rebirth’ of this settlement. It will engage with the ‘Slow City’ movement in its ambition to provide an enriched public realm, reflecting on the past, engaging with the present in both a social and physical sense and providing an enriched town environment for the future.
The program should focus on creating a viable concept for a ‘literary center’ that goes beyond the idea of a library or performance space.
Embracing the town’s past and complementing the proposed ‘museum of paper making’ at Bank Mill, the existing library and public venues; your proposal will provide a place for reading, writing and performing and will celebrate the town’s past history through books. The proposal will have community spaces for weekly book clubs and recitals and be the public link for writers.
Your proposal should extend beyond the perimeter of the proposed building, extending into the public realm and create positive and vital external rooms for the people of Penicuik to inhabit on a daily basis, but also during special community events held in the town.
Your proposal will transcend the notion of a ‘library’ and activate a space that has an innovative and flexible public program and one that reinforces the social, cultural and economic status of Penicuik and the surrounding locale. It will be the ownership of the project by the community that will engender success and longevity of the project.
The facility should be designed to become a venue for the community with events such as book clubs, children’s story telling, and perhaps a writer’s guild, and could also include, paper making and book binding workshops, a print studio, and a café? And all the necessary support space required by this type of program should also be considered and designed for. Spaces can be flexible and it may be that they ‘overlap’ in terms of their designed program.
While the basic technical and experiential aspects that support this type of public venue should be acknowledged, the thrust of the project is the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Penicuik, rather than an exploration of the technicalities of the design. The emphasis should be on the townscape argument that conditions individual interpretations of the building programme.
The restriction to the selection of one building/site is intended to sharpen the argument for the particular selection over all other potential choices, and to inform the architectural intent of the individual proposal.
It is important that when considering the programme for your building that you remain connected to the scale of the venue and its appropriateness in Penicuik. Your proposal should be primarily an ‘accountable resource’ for the community as well as a visitor attraction. Think about external public space, scale and materials, utilisation of existing buildings, traffic and pedestrians and possible external realm that you wish to develop. Consider performance/gathering space both internal and external, and what facilities you intend to include in your proposal together with the necessary support accommodation. You should think about the wider aspirations you may have for your intervention.