The Architecture Ensemble

PROJECT : Downland Gridshell with Edward Cullinan Architects
LOCATION : Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, East Sussex
DATE : 1996-2002

The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum is a 45-acre rural park near Chichester, West Sussex containing a growing collection of historically important buildings from across the Southeast of England. The buildings are meticulously dismantled on their original site and then fully restored at the museum. In 1997 a £1.3m grant programme was used to replace the existing workshops with one structure to provide the museum with a new artefact store, building restoration workshop, and educational centre from which various building technology and conservation courses could be held.

Edward Cullinan Architects teamed up with engineers, Buro Happold, and The Green Oak Carpentry Co. to design and construct what was later to be called the Downland Gridshell. Steven Johnson served for six years as project designer and architect prior to establishing The Architecture Ensemble.

The Downland Gridshell became the first timber gridshell to be built in Britain and one of the first in the world to be built as a permanent structure. The building is, in fact, two buildings built one on top of the other with the load bearing masonry artefact store supporting the timber gridshell building above. The result is an extremely efficient structure that was built using between a tenth and a twelfth of the amount of wood that would have been required had the building been built using traditional timber framing.