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Gainsborough's House Museum, Sudbury

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

ZMMA preserves a listed dwelling and creates a significant museum with its sustainable refit and adaptation of artist Thomas Gainsborough's house to take the 2024 RIBA East Building of the Year and Conservation Awards

Gainsborough's House Museum.
Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse

2024 RIBA East Award
2024 RIBA East Building of the Year sponsored by EH Smith
2024 RIBA East Conservation Award

Gainsborough's House Museum, Sudbury
ZMMA for Gainsborough's House
Contract value: Confidential
GIA: 2065m2

This transformative project has seen a significant regional and national museum emerge from the adaptation of what was previously a small, local resource. The focus of the museum is the historic home of 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough in Sudbury, Suffolk. Not only has the project conserved this Grade I-listed house, it has also provided exhibition galleries and supporting facilities through a combination of adjacent historical buildings and new structures.

A series of Grade II-listed 19th century cottages and outbuildings were adapted to provide a shop, printing studio and public café. The project also included a major new suite of climate-controlled exhibition galleries which provide the security and environmental conditions that enable international loans. The result has the character of a campus of buildings rather than a single environment, with careful attention having been paid to accessibility between its various parts.

  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: ZMMA
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: ZMMA
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Together, the modifications have allowed the museum to double its visitor numbers, increase its community engagement, and secure its future in the precarious climate faced by arts institutions in the post-Covid world. The architect has achieved all this with great ingenuity and a sensitivity to detail and materials selection, which is all the more remarkable given the relatively constrained budget for such an extensive and complex programme.

Central to the project’s approach to conservation and sustainability is the principle of allowing each building to ‘do what it does best’. Highly serviced spaces are removed from the historic house, allowing it to return to the look and feel of an 18th century home. Meanwhile the demanding and more energy-intensive requirements of climate-controlled galleries are met in the purpose-built new wing. The shop and café, housed in the 19th century cottages, form part of the streetscape and create a bridge between the public and paying visitors.

  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Gainsborough's House Museum.
    Gainsborough's House Museum. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
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The careful and critical conservation applied to Gainsborough’s House itself reflects a deep commitment to maintaining historical integrity. As a whole, the project stands as a model for harmonising heritage preservation and contemporary needs, and showcases creative repair and conservation, adaptive reuse of historic structures, and comprehensive refurbishment and regeneration efforts.

The new gallery wing takes its inspiration from Sudbury’s townscape, its scale and roof form echoing those of adjacent industrial buildings that still serve the town’s long-established silk weaving industry. The exterior exemplifies the inventively textured use of locally sourced materials, including bricks produced from clay extracted two miles from the site and local flint.

Internally, materials are robust, warm and tactile, with originality in the design of elements such as balustrades and ventilation grilles, which enriches the visitor’s experience. Juxtaposition of artwork with carefully controlled views of the surrounding town and landscape gives a palpable sense of a project that has been designed to root Gainsborough’s work back in the landscape and place he knew, but also within the setting and community in which the contemporary museum now sits.

See the rest of the RIBA East winners hereAnd all the RIBA Regional Awards here.

To see the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com.

RIBA Regional Awards 2024 sponsored by EH Smith and Autodesk

Credits

Contractor Thomas Sinden
Structural engineer Eckersley O'Callaghan
M&E engineer QODA
Cost consultant PT Projects
Lighting designer Sutton Vane Associates
Project manager Artelia UK

Credit: ZMMA
Credit: ZMMA
Credit: ZMMA
Credit: ZMMA

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