Opening Hours

Café, galleries and shop: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

House: Tuesday – Sunday 12  – 5pm

Free, timed entry tickets to the House are available at the information desk on arrival or online here.

Last entry to the House is at 4.30pm

Contact Us

+44 (0)1223 748 100
mail@kettlesyard.cam.ac.uk

 

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My work began at Kettle’s Yard in 2004, under Director Michael Harrison, with a competition to design an education wing in the newly acquired North East corner of the site. When Michael Harrison sadly died, and Andrew Nairne became Director, Andrew’s vision extended this work to include the creation of new galleries.

Kettle’s Yard as a building has evolved through a series of additions. It began when Jim Ede purchased and transformed a set of dilapidated cottages to form the House, a place where contemporary art, historic and natural objects sit comfortably within a modest domestic interior. The most important addition to the House is, of course, Sir Leslie Martin and David Owers’s 1970 extension, which I consider to be a masterpiece of late modern architecture. Following this, a series of small extensions were added as and when adjacent land became available. Each of these strove to continue the journey, but Andrew Nairne recognised that, collectively, they were unsuccessful as galleries. A bold decision was taken to demolish everything from the 1970 extension to the retained Victorian façade on Castle Street in order to insert new, generous galleries and a welcome area, as well as completing the planned education wing.

The starting point for all of this work was my admiration for the 1970 extension. What is fascinating for me about Kettle’s Yard is the seamless continuity between the historic and the modern. Jim Ede, in his book A Way of Life—Kettle’s Yard, writes: ‘It starts from the cottage with a couple of generously wide steps down … and continues through an open doorway into the very large and comfortably proportioned new building, which itself develops in easy and individual stages.’ In considering the transformation of Kettle’s Yard, I strove to achieve the same sensibility, designing a contemporary extension which similarly ‘develops in easy and individual stages’.

Leslie Martin and David Owers’s work has a very distinct approach to materiality, light and detail. Many visitors would be amazed to realise that, in the extension, all the daylight comes from above and that there are almost no windows in the building at all. The double-height volume is in huge contrast to the intimate spaces of the House, yet you are never aware of this shift in scale. The materials are modest, and simply constructed: brick and timber floors, a solid pine staircase and rough plaster walls. This gentle architecture allows the artworks and furniture to be the focus of attention. In fact, when, during the recent construction work, the extension was emptied of its contents, it was extraordinary to see the spaces quite bare and severe. My ambition was to complement the existing architecture with an equally modest new addition.

My respect for the 1970 fabric is manifest in the decision to carry out an element of restoration as a part of the project. Previously, visitors might have believed that Kettle’s Yard was perfectly preserved. While this is predominantly true of the House and its extension, the three small galleries to the side had been severely altered over time: the exposed brick walls had been plastered over; the massive brick bench had been replaced with a timber and plaster bench; and doors had been added to create a small learning space. We took the opportunity to restore these spaces back to their original state.

In terms of making new interventions, the resolution of circulation was a priority. Multiple front doors had previously caused confusion, yet I understood that the experience of entering the House through the narrow passage and ringing the bell at the small side door had been an essential moment in every visit to Kettle’s Yard since 1958. Therefore, the original entry to the House has been maintained. However, ticketing and visitor information is now comfortably accommodated in a new and extended entrance area. A glazed screen and canopy has been inserted into the entry courtyard. Its black, patinated bronze frame makes reference to the heavier black timber of the old entrance, but in a new, more delicate language. Once inside, the winding journey through the House and 1970 extension has an idiosyncratic quality. Likewise, as you move through the new spaces, ramps and stairs meander down past the galleries towards the education suite.

Education, which is the raison d’etre of Cambridge, takes place predominantly behind the closed doors of the colleges. The new Clore Learning Space attempts to reverse this. Its double height volume, reminiscent of the central space of the 1970 extension, opens onto Castle Street, placing education quite literally at the fore of the new Kettle’s Yard. A black steel stair, simply and boldly detailed, continues the journey up to a research space, a second learning room and offices.

Central to the present transformation is the creation of two new galleries, which allow Kettle’s Yard to mount exhibitions of a broad range of contemporary art practice. One gallery is top-lit, with rooflights constructed following Leslie Martin’s detail, while a second gallery has a large window opening onto Castle Street. This window also allows direct access for art works to the galleries. A shallow third gallery has also been created, visible only from the street.

For any museum or gallery, its commercial offer is vital. Kettle’s Yard has not had a café before, yet hospitality is very much part of its character. Jim Ede opened his home to students every afternoon of term for them to see and talk about art, and those who lingered were sometimes offered tea in the dining alcove in the house. We have created a new café and designed a bigger, much-improved shop. It was important that these commercial elements of the project should feel appropriate and in tune with the whole of Kettle’s Yard. To this end, both the café and shop have had bespoke furniture created whose robust timber detailing is a direct reference to the reclaimed timber furniture which Jim Ede placed in his house.

Architects often speak about context; for me, more than any other project, Kettle’s Yard has had the most significant context. I have learned so much during the past few years working on Kettle’s Yard, especially having been privileged to share many wonderful conversations with the architect David Owers. It is of paramount importance to me that our new work will be seen as a part of a whole, rather than as a project on its own. The visitor may understand the different building elements, but it is my hope that they will feel the inherent singularity of Kettle’s Yard as a place and sense the continuity of Jim Ede’s wonderful and enduring vision—a vision that has guided us through this long process.

Jamie Fobert

January 2018