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WongAvery Gallery, Cambridge

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

Níall McLaughlin Architects creates a space for calm contemplative enjoyment of music despite a technically challenging brief in a historic context for Trinity Hall, winning a 2024 RIBA East Award

WongAvery Gallery.
WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane

2024 RIBA East Award

WongAvery Gallery, Cambridge
Níall McLaughlin Architects for Trinity Hall
Contract value: Confidential
GIA: 73m2

The WongAvery Gallery is built in a highly sensitive historic location to a very specific and unusual brief. Surrounded by Grade I and Grade II-listed buildings within an existing court at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, it provides a dedicated music practice and performance space. It also houses environmentally sensitive musical instruments and the college’s music library. This small, single-space building responds to its challenging context and technically demanding brief with exceptional rigour. Technical challenges are addressed as an integral part of the architectural language: the material properties of Portland stone define the building’s character as both structure and enclosure, but are also used to control acoustic reverberation and moderate temperature and humidity. Most importantly, the architect has created a space of calm, contemplative enjoyment for performers and audiences alike, supporting the ongoing musical life of the college.

  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: David Valinsky
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: David Valinsky
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • Existing site for the WongAvery Gallery.
    Existing site for the WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects
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The building takes the form of a pure, freestanding, geometric pavilion sitting within an irregular existing court and has an unusual monumentality for a small structure. Kim Wilkie’s landscaping of the court is an integral part of the scheme. Climbing plants on the existing buildings – typical of the Cambridge collegiate context – provide a green frame for the new building, which relates the scale of the pavilion’s lower volume to the court’s enclosing walls. This effect is most evident from the pavilion’s interior, where the large scale of the glazed openings allows the court’s green walls to read as the primary enclosure of the space. In the summer this glazing can be fully opened, enabling performance and audience to inhabit the court as a whole.

At ground level the building’s lower volume takes the form of a Greek cross, accommodating seating and performance space. Above this, a glazed lantern fills the interior with light and provides acoustic volume. The lantern is supported by stone fins, the slenderness of which illustrates the engineering refinement that has been achieved in the loadbearing stone structure. Stone from different beds in the quarry has been used in different proportions in the interior to use variations in its acoustic properties. The acoustic testing of stone samples from first principles, overturning conventional assumptions on material performance, illustrates the rigour with which client and design team pursued the scheme’s architectural and technical ambitions.

  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
  • WongAvery Gallery.
    WongAvery Gallery. Credit: Nick Kane
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The mechanical systems required to maintain environmental conditions for the musical instruments, both for conservation and to maintain tuning, have been efficiently designed and carefully integrated to ensure they do not impose on either the intimate character of the space or its historic context.

The jury left the pavilion having absorbed a sense of calm unusual in any building. This is an admirable project in the way it has set out exceptional architectural ambitions and succeeded in seeing them through both design and construction with outstanding rigour and attention to detail.

See the rest of the RIBA East winners here. And 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 Barnes Construction
Structural engineer Smith & Wallwork
M&E engineer Max Fordham
Cost consultant Gleeds
Landscape architect Kim Wilkie
Acoustic engineer Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design
Interior designer Harrison Goldman

Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Credit: Níall McLaughlin Architects

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