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      Richard Layzell – Didcot      
Route Planner

spacerarrow Introduction
spacerarrow The Window Wall
spacerarrow Perforated Panels

spacerarrow Love Handles
spacerarrow Everyday Jewels


Oxfordshire’s poorest town, recognised for its power and train stations and not much else. So let culture put it on the map and change that profiling. Nice. So we’ll get some hotshot architects to design us a new funky iconic arts centre and a couple of artists to add a certain something. Easy. The council will put up the cash. Let’s go.

Dominic Williams of Ellis Williams, designers of the Baltic in Gateshead. They’re the ones. Jacqui Poncelet the other artist. I’m linking up with local people and hanging out with the architects. Expansive designs cutting a swathe through the town centre, a walkway on several levels. Nothing remotely like it in Didcot. Yes.

Notice goes out to the residents that I’m up for talking and holding weekly workshops at the Northbourne Centre, a slightly sorrowful church hall with a firm keyholder, Joyce. Different people come along each week, but we get there, a cluster of ideas and proposals for the new building.

There's an open invitation for the artists and the community to influence the building design and details. Jacqui and I have been appointed early in the process. We're ahead of the game.

Everyday JewelsJoyce turns out to be a serious amateur archaeologist and brings along some of her local finds to one of the workshop sessions. There’s a piece of mammoth tusk, Roman and Mediaeval pottery shards, all professionally labelled. She keeps them in cardboard boxes on a shelf in her garage. She says if the local museum get hold of them no one will ever see them again. She knows what she’s talking about. Didcot is not picturesque. A person with vim and vision did not plan this sprawl of cheap housing. There’s no period village centre like all the other nearby towns, and there must be a dozen charity shops in the downtown strip. So Joyce’s objects add a startling new dimension to this piece of grim, urban landscape. They speak of a history before the Didcot Power Station and Didcot Parkway Railway Station. And she keeps them in her garage. Shouldn’t they be on public display in some form? Perhaps I can make this happen. This is the starting point for Everyday Jewels.

Love HandlesSomeone mentions Style Acre, a day centre and home for learning disabled people, run by a ceramicist called Jenny Pozzoni. It’s recommended. I can see why. There’s a vibrant sense of community here that’s so lacking in the town itself. They’d like to work with me and make a contribution to this mythical new building. Yes, it really is going to happen. Yes, in Didcot. I run workshops at Style Acre focussing on walls, floors, furniture and handles. These become the starting point for Love Handles.

The Window WallIn Dominic’s early concept designs for the building there’s a kind of display wall, which looks out onto the street. We talk about how this could become an invitation to the community, rather than intimidation. It’s a design feature without function at this point. So I look at it the other way round and talk to the community about how they could use this kind of window idea as a showcase or an opportunity. I show them Dominic’s drawings. This three-way dialogue eventually leads to The Window Wall.

Perforated PanelsHe also tells me about the system of cladding for the exterior of the building, metal panels, imported from Italy, to be ‘perforated’ in Holland. Who will contribute the designs for these perforations? Jacqui, Dominic or me? I think about the two single-sex secondary schools in Didcot and how in Year 12 they combine for art classes in an exciting melange. Would this be an opportunity for these ‘A Level’ students to track the design process from start to finish, creating a legacy for the schools and the town in the process? Couldn’t we use one of their designs for the building facade? It’s agreed that I’ll introduce the idea to them, show them the architects’ drawings, and begin the process to produce designs. Then there’ll be a small competition, with Jacqui and the architects selecting one winning design. Ideally, that student can then travel to Holland to see the perforating production process and then, back in Didcot, the eventual installation of the panels on the building. If we limit this project to Year 12 students, they’ll still be around the following year to see this happen. We call this project Perforated Panels.

So these are the four concepts that I present at the completion of the first phase of my work in 2002. We succeed in fundraising for all of them to happen.

Then the lull begins. There's a council election so no decisions can be taken, especially on a costly arts project. Jason, the project architect, moves on at the chance of a spell with the special one, Renzo Piano. There's a further delay as the architects' query the budget, now that inflation is creeping into the build costs because of the delays. The commissioners, who are the council, say that the budget is fixed, no question. This is it. So then there's another delay and a stand off. Eventually, Ellis Williams appoint Rob, as project architect, to redesign the building, scaling it down to meet the new budget, reduced by inflation, two years on. Meanwhile Ian, the winning student for the Perforated Panels design, has left school and gone away to college.

By the end of 2004 there’s pressure to spend some of the money raised for my four projects, or it will be lost, so I have Love Handles produced in the West Midlands for a non-existent building.

A year later, Jon Satow, an independent project manager is appointed, and things seem to be moving again. I’m asked for the design for Perforated Panels. Then it goes very quiet indeed. By 2006 I’m losing any belief that this building will ever see the light. But at the end of the year I receive an email from the commissioner: It's difficult to believe that after so long we are about to start work on site! Do I believe him?

In June I’m told the contractors are on site and the framework for the auditorium is being erected. Send me the photos and I’ll believe it.

Auditorium Beams

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