Albion Barn at Old Belchers farm in Oxfordshire is a residential and cultural exhibition space designed for a private art dealer.
Old Belchers Farm is a charming 17th century farmhouse with a collection of barns and stables within a courtyard and farm estate setting. The collection of buildings has Historic Interest Building Status, and the property falls within the Conservation Area of Little Milton, a picturesque Costwold village in Oxfordshire. It is in this residential setting that the owner of the property wished to establish a contemporary art centre, displaying his own collection and installing shows within a more domestic and intimate setting than the typical industrial lofts of the urban commercial gallery. The grounds became a place of exhibition allowing the art collection to spill into nature.
The old farmhouse buildings were to be converted into art galleries, where the architecture would react to the intimacy of its domestic setting. A place where art is displayed, while simultaneously the owner could informally entertain amongst his extensive art collection. The 325m² project on Old Belchers Farm also includes a dining room and offices wrapped around an ‘intimate’ central hidden library with four secret doors.
The galleries are devised to accommodate different scales of art, dividing the spaces into double height galleries for large sculpture and installations. A single storey extension with skylights for natural light, houses the more intimate scale art, such as paintings and smaller sculptures of installations.
The main barn is located aside from the house courtyard setting, out of view from the High Street and just inside the private access road, as it enters into the courtyard. A lean-to block addition with asbestos roof was added to the main barn at some stage to the south elevation, obscuring the main barn and forming the boundary wall to the neighbouring property Betts Farm House. The main barn is converted into the main exhibition space. The building is compartmentalised into the public galleries with their dedicated entrance, and a more intimate library, dining room and kitchen, for the smaller informal gatherings.
The library is conceived as the focus of the building, a transitional and pivotal space between the private and public spaces. The idea was that once inside the library, one should feel fully surrounded by books, rather than walls. The space is galleried, and the ceiling mirrored, giving the sense that the library extends vertically into infinity. The illusion is then broken by an oversized pink skylight, puncturing the ceiling into a deep void, giving a soft and warm natural glow to the books. The four walls are covered in full height bookshelves, within which four secret doors have been integrated. When closed, the space seems to have no exit, and one is fully immersed in this extensive and wondrous art book collection.