Weald & Downland Gridshell

The Downland Gridshell Building, commissioned by The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, marked Britain’s first major timber gridshell, completed in 2002. Christopher Zeuner, the museum’s director, a visionary client, collaborated with the Green Oak Carpentry Company, contributing to its design. Architect Steve Johnson’s drawings from Cullinan Studios guided the project, influenced by Frei Otto’s Manheim Garden Exhibition Hall.

The site’s challenging gradient necessitated cutting chalk to build the 50x12m archive store, integrated into the earth for stability. The Green Oak Carpentry Company’s involvement included installing Whitewood glulam elements forming the archive store’s ‘lid.’ The gridshell’s intricate timber lattice was assembled on a scaffold, utilizing a unique adjustable ‘node clamp’ concept by Andrew Holloway. Oak laths, linked through innovative joints, were affixed, forming the shell’s structure. Despite setbacks, including the passing of Christopher Zeuner, the structure’s completion showcased remarkable teamwork.

The building received acclaim for its uniqueness, winning awards, including RIBA recognition and the BCIA Small Project of the Year. Noteworthy achievements included pioneering techniques, longest timber sections, innovative adhesive use, and a patented nodal clamp design. The Downland Gridshell remains an exemplar of collaboration between client, architect, engineer, and carpenter, standing as a testament to their bold vision and ingenuity.

Architect: Ted Cullinan

Builder: W A Chiverton

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