Architect David Shatwell is Design Team Leader and Project Manager on Chester Farm.
Architect David Shatwell has worked for Buttress for 30 years and he is Design Team Leader on Chester Farm and also the Project Manager for the construction phase.
He tells me that he has worked on the heritage side for at least 25 years of his career and it is their degree of complexity that makes him love working with historic buildings. "Do nothing and they fall down, but you need to make them workable without losing their historic significance and that's the challenge."
I ask David about favourite past projects and he talks affectionately of St George's Hall and the Albert Dock, both in Liverpool; the Parliamentary Estate in particular the 'old' New Scotland Yard and Court Service buildings across the north of England. "The best part for me is finding ways of making listed buildings work in a modern context" he explains.
What were his first impressions on visiting Chester Farm? "I thought it was a fantastic site, with strong similarities to a project at Milton Keynes that I worked on. Straightaway I was thinking; how do we make this work?".
David explains that the familiarisation process is vital, looking for what works and what doesn't, looking for opportunities that would optimise the space and enhance the visitor experience while conserving the heritage.”
Consultation with Historic England has been lengthy but never painful, in some areas Buttress’s design had enhanced the significance of the site, thus creating opportunities for change elsewhere; always with minimal impact on the heritage but delivering huge benefit to the end product.
David agrees with Sam that one of the biggest challenges is bringing the farmhouse back to its original Grade II* listing. He tells me that they have limited photographic evidence of what Chester House looked like before the fire "so the photos can only really act as a guide."
Now that they are in the construction phase the challenges change. In the design phase you can take your time researching all the elements, at this stage however, if you find something unexpected, you need to be able to get down to the site, find out what the problem is and work with the contractors to agree a solution.
David tells me that sometimes you can sort it by 'phone, but often there is no choice other than "to go and get your hands dirty!" Absolutely key is good communication between the whole team.
Chester Farm has such a range of buildings of varying ages and styles and when David Shatwell says "we need to find a way of bringing them back into use, while celebrating also the history of the site – pure and simple" I'm sure he will.
Mary Powell, web editor October 2016