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MacEwen 2023 shortlist: East Quay, Watchet, Somerset

Words:
Eleanor Young

‘A mixed eco system including art galleries, café, bookshop and accommodation pods’

East Quay, designed by Invisible Studio: a building to give a west Somerset coastal town all-year-round community.
East Quay, designed by Invisible Studio: a building to give a west Somerset coastal town all-year-round community. Credit: Jim Stephenson

East Quay, Watchet, West Somerset
Invisible Studio for Onion Collective CIC
Contract cost £5.3 million
GIFA 1,700m2

 

This community arts centre in the Somerset coastal town of Watchet has an extensive programme. ‘It is a mixed eco system including art galleries, café, bookshop, accommodation pods etc,’ said chair of the judges, Isabelle Priest. The building is less driven by arts than by a desire for an active social enterprise, set up by local women, to create a heart in the town and a sense of hope. The centre also brings in visitors and provides space for local businesses, such as a handmade paper mill and other makers. 

Three designers worked on the project: Invisible Studio set out an ambitious and dramatic design that would deal with the potential piecemeal funding rounds, Ellis Williams oversaw the build and PEARCE + Faegan created some brilliantly inventive interiors in the pods and education room.

  • East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio.
    East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio.
    East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio.
    East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio.
    East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, designed by Invisible Studio. Credit: Jim Stephenson
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The building’s two arms create a sheltered courtyard on the harbour edge, a setting for many activities during the summer and a meeting place throughout the year. The pinkish concrete plinth creates a strong edge along the curve of the harbourside and is the base for the first-floor ‘street’ which links up with the coastal footpath and allows browsing in the makers’ studios. From this pop up the characterful accommodation pods. The whole building, complete with candy stripes, has a great sense of fun. 

But more important to those who set it up is the impact on the town. It has seen many tourists pass through its doors and engendered a sense among the local population that the town is going somewhere, as well as giving some of its creatives a community to be part of.

Judge Kathy MacEwen, a planner and daughter of Malcolm and Anni MacEwen, saw its potential: ‘It can be transformative in Watchet.’


For more on MacEwen shortlisted projects and architecture for the common good see ribaj.com/MacEwen-Award

 

Credits

Client Onion Collective
Architect Invisible Studio
Executive architect Ellis Williams
Pod interior designer Pearce + Faegan
Structural engineer Momentum
Landscape architect LT Studio

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