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Norden Farm Centre for Arts

Location: Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK

Artists: Julia Manheim (Principal Consulting Artist); Hans Peter Kuhn; Liza Gough Daniels; Anna Heinrich & Leon Palmer


Five contemporary visual artists were commissioned by Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead to work as part of a multi-disciplinary Design Team on the redesign and extension of the Centre's buildings. Julia Manheim was appointed as Principal Consulting Artist (PCA) to work at the early concept stage with the Design Team, and four artists, Hans Peter Kuhn, Liza Gough Daniels, Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer were subsequently recruited. The artists were invited to develop proposals for new works to be integrated within the interior or exterior of the newly designed and re-constructed arts centre. As a result of the design process, Manheim, Kuhn, Heinrich and Palmer created a collaborative piece, Deep Theatre, a multi-media installation incorporating live and recorded video and sound. Liza Gough Daniels contributed two major integrated and connected works: Curved Landscape, a series elliptical public meeting spaces which visually connect the outer courtyard with the interior foyer; and Poured Wall, a major wall painting in the Centre's foyer/bar area.


The redesigned Norden Farm Centre for the Arts opened in September 2000 providing a major new community arts venue for Maidenhead and the Thames Valley. It was created to provide a high quality programme and state of the art facilities for contemporary dance, drama, music, visual arts, craft and film. The complex of existing buildings which make up the centre had been received by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council as planning gain in return for housing development on the farmland. Prior to 1996 the Board of the Centre had raised funds from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts to develop the buildings and had undertaken work on the shell including excavating a theatre below ground level. At the outset of its most recent development the centre comprised: a Georgian farmhouse; a 17th century barn; a 1960s barn and the shell of a new-build completed in 1995.

In January 1996 the Arts Council of England awarded funding for a Feasibility Study which was carried out by Matthews Millman and McCann, with architects, Architecture for the Arts and public art agency Artpoint. The Study advised that the centre should be more ambitious, which would require existing buildings being altered, extended and refurbished and recommended that a Principal Consulting Artist (PCA) be recruited to work with the Design Team at the concept design stage.

At the heart of the brief for the building was the Client's desire that the Centre's design should express the transformative power of the arts, and the creative nature of the place. "We were convinced that from the earliest stage artists should be involved in design decisions. We wanted a building that would excite and intrigue and artworks that were integrated into the fabric of the Centre. " David Hill, Norden Farm Director.

The Process of Involving Artists

In December 1996 Arts Council of England Lottery funding was awarded for Design Development. Architecture for the Arts (AftA) were appointed as project architects (led by Paul Jenkins) and Julia Manheim was recruited from an invited shortlist (drawn up by Artpoint) as PCA with a brief to identify opportunities for herself and other artists.

Julia Manheim and Louise O'Reilly, then Project Manager with Artpoint, attended all Design Team meetings during this early concept design stage. Paul Jenkins of AftA was an enthusiastic supporter of the contribution that artists can bring to a design project, and indeed the whole team viewed these multi-disciplinary discussions as key creative opportunities. The Design Team meetings provided a thorough briefing for the PCA and Artpoint on all matters technical as well as conceptual. Discussions about the potential role of the PCA and other artists within the design process led to a proposal in March 1997 to appoint a team of artists including Julia Manheim, and for each to produce one temporary and one permanent work integral to the fabric of the Centre.

The criteria for the selection of artists arose from particular issues addressed by the Design Team. From the selection process there emerged a strong focus on technology and audio-visual work, in part a response to the sophisticated Audio Visual and computer facilities within the Centre, and to the critical role of the sound consultants Acoustic Dimensions. In addition there was a desire to reflect the history of the site, the physicality of the land itself, and for colour to be a strong feature of the building. Julia Manheim and Artpoint developed a commissioning plan and artists' brief that was sent to a shortlist of artists. In May 1997 the team was appointed and contracted to produce proposals.

Shortly after the appointment of the artists a series of three workshops were held, designed to work both as teambuilding and design development exercises. The sessions addressed the key areas for exploration: Function; Fabric; Community & Landscape. (The workshops are described further in PreparatoryWorkshops.) Following the third workshop, the artists themselvesproposed a final session with the architect. This resulted ina joint proposal from Julia Manheim, Hans Peter Kuhn, Leon Palmerand Anna Heinrich to make one collaborative piece. Due to illhealth Liza Gough Daniels withdrew temporarily from the projectafter the second workshop in July 1997 and subsequently rejoinedthe project in October 1997. She therefore developed proposalsfor her interventions on a slightly later timescale.

The Commissions

The collaborative work Deep Theatre focused on a particular site to which each of the four artists had been drawn; a void in the centre of the building, adjacent to the subterranean auditorium. The complex audio visual installation is sited within this space and is viewed through a narrow illuminated opening which runs at eye level along eight metres of the wall of the staircase leading down to the theatre. The viewing slot reveals a wide gauze screen, stretched across a white chalk wall, onto which five views of the building's interior and exterior are projected side-by-side as one seamless architectural panorama. A series of horizontal white lines - apparently scattered across the site - join to form a single horizon line spanning all five images when viewed through the slot. At regular intervals the video images fade down and fibre optic lighting fades up to reveal the wall of chalk excavated from the site during construction. The images are transmitted live from fixed viewpoint cameras and sequenced together with a mix of live sound collected from around the building, and pre-recorded ambient sound/music. The fusion of real-time and recorded elements, and the visual play that brings the sites together within one viewpoint, create a theatrical interpretation of the site, and reference theatre's requirement of the suspension of disbelief.

Abstract painter, Liza Gough Daniels, was appointed for her particular strength in use of colour. Although unable to attend all of the workshops, she worked within the offices of AftA, and worked closely with them on two major interventions. Curved Landscape encompasses a series of open spaces designed to create a visual flow from one area of the site to another, offering spaces for people to meet and to linger. The work's elliptical form pierces the exterior wall, connecting the outer courtyard and the inner foyer area; the new arts centre and the land of the earlier farm. In the courtyard an arcing retaining wall divides two floorscapes of coloured gravels on split levels, creating an informal seating space. Exterior slate paving adjacent to the building, continues uninterrupted into the foyer. A monumental 4 metre high curved concrete screen signals the entrance. Reminiscent of a theatre flat, the screen is painted in two horizontal bands of duck egg blue, introducing a sense of fluidity; a suggestion of sky, and/or of water, to the built environment. Poured Wall saturates with colour the long curving wall at the back of the cafe/bar from floor to ceiling. Four poured columns of intense milky white paint appear to float above an earthy red iron-oxide plaster ground. The painted columns echo the four Silver Birches of the courtyard and the columns of the portico of the original farmhouse.

In addition to the permanent commissions each of the artists developed proposals for temporary works. Although approved, none were realised due to budget restrictions which arose as estimated costs of aspects of the permanent commissions escalated.

Detailed Specifications for the Commissions

The proposals for Deep Theatre and for temporary works were approved in principle by the Design Team and Client in October 1997 ­ although some concerns were raised regarding the estimated costs at this stage. In January 1998, an application to the Arts Council of England for Arts Lottery funding for the Construction Phase was successful. In March 1998 the proposals for Deep Theatre were presented to the Norden Farm Board and agreed in principle. The following month Liza Gough Daniels' proposals for CurvedLandscapeand Poured Wall were approved in principle.

Between May and July 1998, the artists worked with the Design Team to prepare specifications for the tender documents relating to construction and installation. By November 1998 a tender had been received within the budget for the overall building construction incorporating a global figure for construction of the artworks, however the appointed contractor, Ballast Wiltshier, now requested more detailed specifications for the individual commissions.

The artists, more accustomed to having a direct hands-on role in making work, were not experienced in specifying their proposals to be realised by a contractor. After much experimentation, trialling of materials and equipment, and the development of a pro-forma for costing by Frances Forward, then project architect with AftA, final specifications were submitted to the contractor in March 1999. The responding quotation for the artworks now came in at £13,000 over budget.

From the point of the delay in supplying detailed specifications, a separation can be observed between the commissions and the overall building programme. A table produced retrospectively by Artpoint illustrates the relative progress of the architectural and the commissions programme and clearly demonstrates a staggered timetable with the artworks consistently falling one step behind the architectural programme.

Diagram Comparing Buliding and Commission Programmes

In order to realise the commissions within the available budget, the Client, Artpoint, artists and architect agreed to separate out the commissions into those elements that could be delivered by the contractor as part of the building contract, and those that could be installed by the artists post-completion by the contractors. By September 1999 the architects were able to present artists' revised proposals with detailed costings and schedules for those aspects to be delivered by themselves.

As difficulties arose surrounding the production of the commissions David Hill, Director of Norden Farm played a critical role in liasing with the Board of the Centre and in maintaining its commitment to the commissions process. As estimated costs for specific commissions increased, a process of scaling down began with the loss of the temporary works. Despite intense pressure to deliver the project to budget and on time, David Hill remained committed to the principle of the integrated artworks. With a strong sense of the need to get the vision of the scheme right from the outset, he saw the artworks as essential, reflecting the Centre as a site for new work, risk-taking and new technology. Although aware of the possibility that individual commissions could be scaled down or even lost completely, he strove energetically for a balance that could safeguard the artworks without jeopardising the project as a whole.

Artists' Contracts

Simultaneously with the protracted negotiations on preparation of technical specifications and costings, a further challenge arose in the form of the contractual agreement for the production of commissions. The commissioned works were designed as integral parts of the building and therefore had to be achieved within the context of the existing building contract between the Client and Ballast Wiltshier. This meant that the artists' contracts needed to achieve as much compatibility as possible with the building contract without placing any unrealistic liabilities on either the artists or the Client.

During the research & development and design development stages, the artists were sub-contracted by Artpoint on behalf of the Client. For the construction stage Artpoint advised that the artists should be contracted directly by the Client. There was considerable discussion on this issue as the Client felt that this should be part of the role of the arts agency, and further, that Artpoint should be responsible for professionally indemnifying the artists. Artpoint argued that this would not be appropriate, using the analogy that a Client would not generally expect an architect to sub-contract or indemnify a construction company, engineers, or other professionals. Also it was not appropriate to expect the artists or an arts agency to carry professional indemnity insurance as neither worked within the context of professionally affiliated institutions.

In December 1998 Artpoint drafted the artists' commission contracts, however issues of contractual structureand guarantees were not able to be fully resolved. A new contract was therefore drafted by Artpoint in collaboration withthearchitects and a specialist solicitor. (See CommissionsContracts for further information.)


Throughout the development period the artists had dealt with a number of different AftA project architects and in December 1999 the practice unfortunately went into liquidation. Architects Gotch, Saunders and Surridge were appointed to oversee the construction phase. Architect Lucy Jones who had worked for AftA on the preparation of design drawings, worked for Gotch, Saunders & Surridge as site representative to oversee the completion of the project, playing a key role in liasing between the artists and the contractor in the delivery of the scheme including the commissions.

During the construction period the site was legally the responsibility of the contractors and therefore the artists were not officially allowed to work on site. Lucy Jones held monthly progress meetings with Artpoint and the PCA and worked closely with Liza Gough Daniels (LGD) who made Poured Wall during the construction period, and worked extensively on Curved Landscape during this period.

The original proposal for Curved Landscape underwent several re-workings during the construction period. The first proposal for an external finish of polished plaster in turquoise was initially approved and fully researched over a period of five months, then subsequently rejected by the architects on the grounds of cost and its visual relation to the rest of the scheme. As an alternative AfA suggested casting in concrete and asked LGD to research available UK aggregates. To suggest geological layering, LGD and Paul Jenkins resolved to cast the wall as a single matrix of five aggregates within a pure white cement - suggesting the chalk of the site. The intention was to shot blast the cast wall using a steel template which would retain areas of brilliant white and create a sense of layering by revealing the different types of aggregate as the finer stones were sequentially blasted away at different levels. This proposal was fully researched and specified to AfA by LGD.

However, just as the wall was due to be cast AfA went into receivership. In the handover a break-down in communication resulted in major problems with the casting of the wall including the wrong cement being specified resulting in a screen cast in two halves using standard cement (not pure white), with Thames river gravel as aggregate, and no additional depth of cement at the face to be shot blast away. Internal steel rods were placed too close to the surface which severely limited the artist's ability to shot blast into the wall. The wall cast in two sections resulted in an unintended strong horizontal line running across the centre of the wall. The resulting structure was not successful, certainly not what the artist or the Client had expected - and as the rest of the building grew up around it, it became clear to all that this finish was not acceptable. As a result Liza was invited and paid to propose a solution which she achieved by having the front and sides of the wall rendered and painted in two shades of atmospheric duck egg blue.

Many other aspects of the artworks were built and installed by the contractors including the plastering of the wall of PouredWall, the landscaping of Curved Landscape and the chalk wall and structure of Deep Theatre. Acoustic Dimensions played a critical supportive role on this commission, working with the artists to test ideas and identifying potential for technical costs to fall within the core budget for AV equipment. The contractor, via a technical sub-contractor Northern Light, installed the microphones and cameras for Deep Theatre.

The building contract was completed in August 2000 and during an eight-week post-completion period artists had access to the site to complete Deep Theatre including final adjustments of camera angles and the pouring of Poured Wall. All artworks were completed within timetable and on budget with a small contingency remaining.

© Copyright Jane Connarty 2002.