An Interview with the Architect
We are committed to using local people and businesses on the Maesteg Town Hall redevelopment, wherever possible and practical.
One of the main contributors from Purcell Architects is Ross Hartland. Originally from Ogmore Vale, Ross studied both his BSc (Hons) and Masters at the Welsh School of Architecture, where he graduated with First Class Honours and was nominated for an RIBA Presidents Medal in 2016.
We asked Ross what it means to be working on the project that will see £8m invested in his local area.
From a very young age I was always fascinated with making and creating all sorts of homemade projects, especially Meccano and the weekly Art Attack challenges! When progressing through Ogmore Primary and Comprehensive School this fascination increasingly grew for design and particularly the craft of how materials are assembled to create beautifully made objects. It wasn’t until my GCSE’s that my passion for designing and making really came to the fore with a number of Design Technology projects exploring furniture design and eco-housing models, at which point architecture became a real career option where I could develop this passion.
I researched into the curriculum of the Welsh School of Architecture as an A-Level student and was instantly taken by the creativity and diversity of the course, along with its genuine focus on the value of making. It was a surprise to me at that time that the architectural profession was not just about producing technical drawings of buildings, but actually encompasses elements of art, interior design, landscapes and, importantly, the craft of building construction. My inspiration to become an architect really stemmed from this, it was a profession where I could hone and explore designing and making in relation to our built environment, aspiring to understand how buildings can be formed and carefully constructed to make a real difference to the people and communities in which they serve.
Maesteg Town Hall is undoubtedly a fine example of the ‘Queen Anne’ style with high architectural value, owing to its balanced local pennant stone elevations and the integrity of its 1914 detailing. For me, however, architecture has to transcend aesthetic niceties and provide genuine value to its people and place. What is so interesting about Maesteg Town Hall is the demonstration of this incredible value it provides the communities of the Llynfi Valley, something that has been particularly notable during conversations with residents since our very earliest involvement. It is clear that the Town Hall is a vessel of invaluable memories and stories for people of all ages and backgrounds, tales which span generations and have been a constant in many lives despite the continued evolution of Maesteg.
As a building, the Town Hall physically embodies the social history of Maesteg and even the wider context of our industrial and mining heritage in the South Wales Valleys. It is a vitally important civic building which welcomes all and contributes enormously to the town’s sense of community and inclusiveness. This community focus was always intended, with Mr Alexander Brogden, MP, noting in 1873 that the need in Maesteg was not for a memorial hall, ‘but a hall which should be their own building – a hall in which the public sense upon any question can be expressed’. It is due to this community value and embodiment of local history and heritage that we must look to this redevelopment to both preserve the fabric of the Town Hall and ensure its operational sustainability for our future generations to experience.
The proposed extension is deliberately a highly transparent element with minimal detailing, both to maintain clear views to the Town Hall’s decorative facades and to blur the usual boundary between inside and outside, enabling the building to read as an extension of the public street. Utilising a simple glazing system, the new façade rises from a natural Welsh pennant stone base which not only references the original stone masonry of the Town Hall, but also translates into the stepped ground plane of the foyer and flexible performance space, becoming a seamless continuation of the paving to Talbot St and the External Market. It is exactly this seamlessness between Talbot Street, the External Market and the new extension that is so vital to the idea of community inclusiveness, with the new foyer’s role as an internal street designed to welcome all and exclude none.
In contrast to the transparency elsewhere, the proposed new studio is a necessarily more solid volume for acoustic and lighting requirements. However, formed in coloured polycarbonate, it provides an external translucency which seeks to not only achieve a visual lightness, but to actively capture reflections of the Town Hall which will activate the street. Additionally, the colour intends to both compliment the decorative brick and terracotta dressings of the existing facades, whilst nodding to the mining heritage of the Llynfi Valley for which the Town Hall was originally constructed.
First and foremost, the most exciting outcome of this redevelopment has always been the new lease of life that it will afford the Town Hall. It can be very easy when seeing CGI visuals of the new architectural proposals to overlook the major and absolutely essential fabric repairs and conservation works that will ensure the physical fabric of Maesteg Town Hall is safeguarded for our future generations. Over the past few months we have been undertaking extensive survey works to identify the longstanding sources of rainwater ingress which have led to a multitude of defects within the existing fabric, defects which will now be addressed through a comprehensive repair and maintenance schedule as a first priority.
In addition to the preservation of the Town Hall’s physical fabric, we’ve always viewed the proposed extension as a considered and sympathetic ‘rucksack’, a new intervention which provides the fundamental public and private spaces which will equip the Town Hall to meet the needs of our 21st century communities, whilst retaining its original function. It is very exciting that, with these new interventions, the Town Hall will be fully accessible to main hall and stage level and, with the diversity of its new community programme, can potentially attract a wider public audience and thus encourage greater engagement with the heritage of Maesteg and the Llynfi Valley.
It truly is a fantastic and unique opportunity for myself personally to be working on, and contributing to this aspirational project which is a huge investment and precedent for high-quality architecture and the conservation of our heritage in the Welsh Valleys. To have secured such significant investment is a testament to the high community and architectural value of Maesteg Town Hall, along with the tireless work of Awen Cultural Trust and Bridgend County Borough Council over a period of years, to ensure that this building will remain a community asset to Maesteg both now and in the future.
Although the education is renowned for being demanding on both time and commitment, the journey allows for creative self-expression and personal development that is incredibly wide ranging and unique. Speaking from my personal experiences at the Welsh School of Architecture, the process presents a considered balance between artistic creation and technical understanding, allowing for the development of diverse design, visualisation, communication and making skills which are ultimately valuable to many professions.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of architectural education is the studio and study trip culture. Whereas many degrees would require day after day of library time – although there are written elements to the course – architecture is different in that the majority of your time will be spent in the ‘studio’, a social and creative space where you will inevitably develop relationships with fellow students and tutors as you explore your individual and group ideas through drawing, model making and experimentation. These ideas are informed further by yearly study trips to some of Europe’s biggest and most culturally rich cities, where the history of architecture is experienced first-hand.