Building Study: Charlie Bigham’s, Somerset, by Feilden Fowles


Ike Ijeh on a winning recipe for that most functional of building types: the food production plant

In their seminal 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas, the late lamented Robert Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown insisted that all buildings had to fall into either one of two categories, the “duck” or the “decorated shed”. To put it simply, ducks are buildings that explicitly represent their function and decorated sheds are buildings whose function can only be revealed through applied signage or decoration. The logic behind this charmingly gnomic maxim is still widely contested but it helped give aesthetic licence to the visual escapism of the fledgling postmodern movement. And  even today it begs the inevitable question: can a building be both “duck” and “decorated”?

Industrial architecture perhaps forms the ideal typological backdrop on which this theory can be road-tested. Factory buildings are unreservedly functional and utilitarian structures with zero decorative agenda.

A food processing plant is perhaps one of the purest examples of the type – a blank hermetically sealed shed inevitably languishing on a suburban or semi-rural industrial estate that shuns the outside world and is solely concerned with the endless churn of storage and preparation processes that takes place within. 

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