How to design a beautifully modest building

Gillian Darley index

Two new cultural projects by Feilden Fowles and 6a could teach the likes of Diller Scofidio & Renfro a thing or two about ambition

I like the notion of modest ambition. With occasional honourable exceptions, ambitious buildings are all too prone to be skewered on the hubris of architect, client and, where appropriate, donor.

Modesty (financial, in particular) is a check on the ego of the designer and offers a gentle brake on all those who drive a project. The end user may well be the beneficiary. A law of exponential aggrandisement within major cultural institutions suggests that the bigger you are, the bigger you will want to become. A huge concert hall to make a homecoming orchestral superstar happy is next on the London menu but, Simon Rattle apart, who needs these monumental projects?

Two schemes illustrate the case for the low-key approach. Both additions to existing arts centres, they benefit from staff well established in their roles and can serve loyal existing audiences, while growing new ones. The gallery at Milton Keynes has been, until now, something of a poor relation to the theatre next door – starting with the choice of “theatre district” for the signage.

This content is available to Registered users

You are not currently logged in.

LOGIN or REGISTER to access this story

LOGIN or REGISTER for free access on selected stories and sign up for email alerts.

Take out a subscription to BD and you will get immediate access to:

  • Up to the minute architecture news from around the UK
  • Reviews of the latest buildings from all corners of the world
  • Our monthly digital edition including stunning photos, building and technical studies
  • Full access to all our online archives
  • PLUS you will receive a print copy of WA100 when it is published in January

Get access to premium content subscribe today