Former pig shed transformed into x-ray artist's studio in the Kent countryside
The Process Gallery is not the sort of place you expect to find down a country lane in the middle of Kent. With a striking hybrid form inspired by both oast houses and the lens of a camera, it cuts enough of a dash to have passers-by stopping to find out more.
Designed by Guy Hollaway Architects, the building is the studio and gallery of artist Nick Veasey, who uses x-ray technology and analogue film to create images that reveal the insides of their subjects. Starting off with a drinks can more than 20 years ago, he has x-rayed everything from cars and musical instruments to flowers, shoes and antique clothing. His redevelopment of a pig shed near the village of Lenham nearly doubles his previous space and also allows him to include a gallery, intended to display not only his own work but that of other contemporary artists as well.
Veasey has a passion for architecture, in particular of the work of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, and was keen to include corrugated metal cladding on his new studio. He got his wish, with the modest form of the main gallery building clad in a combination of larch and corrugated metal in contrast to the stark concrete of the oast-house-like focal point.
Given the constraints of the relatively modest budget, the architect had first considered using a row of shipping containers, and this idea informs the linear arrangement of the main building.
‘I showed Guy [Hollaway] Glenn Murcutt and he showed me shipping containers and we ended up with this,’ says Veasey, who is delighted with the interest shown in the building.
The architect wanted the building to be intriguing, and visiting it on a bracing spring day, it is certainly that. As well as the oast, the strongest visual element is the distinctive front window opening of the gallery with its larch-clad reveals. As Veasey points out, this is suggestive of the lens and bellows of antique cameras. It is this element, and the oast tower, that draws the visitor to the building.
Entry is via the main gallery space, which is top lit. Full height sliding doors open onto further display and ancillary rooms on one side and on the other, to office space and the x-ray studio, which is housed in the concrete oast. Further studio facilities are at the rear.
Painstakingly realised using in-situ cast concrete, the oast shape was chosen for far more than its reference to the Kent vernacular of hop stores. Importantly, its form also meets the technical requirements for Veasey’s x-ray process by allowing him to hoist his equipment on a pulley up into the 5m high space to capture large-scale images from above.
Created in 600mm thick concrete with a 1,250kg sliding metal door, the room fulfilled strict safety requirements for working with radiation. Veasey particularly appreciates the inclusion of a roof light at the top of the oast chamber, which for the first time allows him to have natural light as he works with this technique. ‘It’s lovely – like a church,’ he says.
The highly textured surface of the concrete is left exposed both outside and in, along with the plywood inside the gallery – the last thing Veasey wanted was a pristine white box. Instead, appropriately, the materials tell their own story.
‘We let the material be what it is. It shows you how it’s made, which comes back to my work,’ he says.
With the gallery and studio up and running, Veasey is now turning his mind to the next phase of the project – creating a sculpture garden in the generous grounds around the gallery.
The swine may be long gone, but with its ambition and bold form, this rural gallery is something of a pearl.