Part of the observations stage included many hours of being in the building for many community and special events. It is interesting that the building and the main space can feel very different on different occasions: what people bring to the space has a profound effect on how it feels as a space. I think, however, it also shows that the space can accommodate different activities and in general is an open, light and comfortable space.
I have also done the bookings for Arc Hall for three years and have a record of community use and outside hire, as well as feedback from users. In general, the kindergarten use has dominated the space and the community has not used the space as much as was envisaged by the designers and the community when it was conceived, although the community often uses the space as is evidenced by my short experience of living in the community.
The architect speaks
Nic Pople, architect of Arc Hall, was invited to speak about the building at an open morning for the new kindergarten in July 2014.
He was a resident at Hoathly Hill at the time the project was conceived. Rudolf Steiner’s lectures, collected in Architecture as a Synthesis of the Arts, was a profound influence on the design process. Key points of his talk were:
- the building was designed as a reflection of its environment and social context and in relation to other community buildings and as part of the landscape
- it replaced a hedge and was conceived as a central point of the community and integrating the community and the large field
- there were a series of workshops carrying out a consensus design process (after Christopher Day) and as facilitator of this process, he saw himself as a ‘visualiser’ and did blackboard drawings throughout
- a purpose built community educational building for young and old
- low windows to allow children to look outside into the garden
- a design theme was ‘modern Medieval’ with the feeling of a hand-made building using machinery
- an ecological building: walls are permeable, a breathing wall structure using pressurised wood fibre (no glue) as our skin breathes; insulation is recycled newspaper (Warmcell), organic paints and floor sealers, underfloor heating convertible to solar thermal when funds are available, shallow foundations to achieve minimum impact, rainwater is diverted to the nearby pond
- geometry was used to create the form of the building and in relation to its environment
- the building was aligned with West Hoathly Church so that there is a view to West Hoathly Church through two windows
- on the ground floor there were two spaces to enable two groups to use ground floor at one time
- as the geometry of the building shows there is a central point from which everything is set out – upon building, people brought things to be put into a ‘time capsule’, which is under the floor in a cavity
- there is a hierarchy of spaces and the central point of the main space is where the central point of the building lies, with smaller spaces around this space
- the idea of an arc is central and vaulted ceilings give a feeling of closure and being held, rather than a flat ceiling which runs on the horizontal plane infinitely
- a relation between the human body and buildings was seen.
The whole ground floor and the outside patio is used to house a kindergarten.
The main space is currently also regularly used for weekly community meetings, for community events, such as film evenings, wedding celebrations and special community meetings, for Trust board meetings, for community festival celebrations, for new kindergarten open mornings, for yoga, taiji, meditation and qigong classes, and for one-off events with special guests, for example, dance or esoteric events, and for permaculture courses.
The space is used multi-funtionally, but still often stands empty in the afternoons, evenings, weekends and school holidays.
The office is used as a storage space by the community’s organisations for their documents: Hoathly Hill Association, Hoathly Hill Trust, Hoathly Hill Renewable Energy. There used to be, but is no longer, a phone line, internet connection, a computer, a fax machine, a photocopier. It is hardly used.
The attic space is used as a library and meeting space. Also very occasionally used.
- north: grass to driveway
- east: gravel pathway, subject to flooding in heavy rainfall, stairway to attic room, bees in the eaves next to the door to the library, preventing people entering during daylight hours
- south: area sunken in relation to the surrounding field, sand pit sand dirty, fencing missing posts, beds: ornamental shrubs and flowers, needing maintenance, large rose bush beside patio doors, small cherry tree, small weeping birch, japonica, spindle bush, dogwood bush in border, apple tree overhanging sand pit, patio drains easily filled with sand from sand put and sunken causing flooding, some small pots with weeds or empty
- west: gravel path to office overgrown, long grass border
- sun sectors: SSW facing patio, building face and small circular bed on that side receiving a lot of light and warmth, the border is shaded in the afternoon as it is sunken next to a bank of earth approximately 1.5m high, in particular the western corner is shaded