At the beginning of the year the trustees approached the Royal Institute of British Architects to seek advice about how best to hold an architectural competition. Our initial intent was to invite entries from around the world so that we would be sharing this project with all those who work in the visual arts. It would be a brave person who dared separate image from imagination, and so we believed we might receive some extraordinary entries from young architects across the globe who see Blake as the unacknowledged patron of the imaginative arts.
However a number of considerations began to dampen this idea. Firstly, the cost might be far in excess of £50k; secondly, an understanding of Blake requires an extraordinary depth of understanding and any briefing worth its salt would be difficult to provide to those across the seas; and finally there was our concern with how the reception of innovative ideas would be received in the village. Felpham is an old village; it appears in the Domesday Book and the area immediately around the Cottage is a designated conservation zone.
So we changed track and set about researching a list of practices that were experienced in renovating historic buildings yet caught our eye with their imaginative solutions. We were seeking an architect who could pare back the accretions that have been added to the building over two centuries to reveal the Cottage that Blake would have known and loved. In the liberated space we could then create a multipurpose building that would expand our curatorial boundaries and be an architectural jewel to draw people to the village in its own right.
From this shortlist we whittled down the names to four architectural firms whom we invited to visit the Cottage. One by one we showed them around the village, house & garden and conversed with them over coffee by the ocean.
It is always a delight to walk around a building with an architect – they see things that are denied to the rest of us. As one of the finalists observed: in appointing an architect you are trusting a person to take you places you would never imagine.
The appointment will be formally announced in September.