Conference centre, incorporating part of a country house of 1858-9 attributed to EB Lamb, with additions designed from 1978 and built 1982-6 by Edward Cullinan Architects; landscaping of the same period by Georgina Livingston,
Reason for Listing
Uplands, a conference centre of 1982-6 by Edward Cullinan Architects, incorporating part of a country house of 1858-9 attributed to EB Lamb, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a radical yet sensitive enlargement of a Victorian country house, in a refined contemporary idiom that makes calculated use of Palladian motifs and greatly enhances the significance of the original building
* Materials and details: Cullinan’s additions display a carefully-chosen palette of traditional and modern materials, expressed in finely-wrought details and striking effects of colour and texture;
* Planning: the strong overall plan, with its quadrangles, cloisters and staircases, evokes collegiate or monastic archetypes whilst providing an extremely lucid functional layout;
* Interiors: these are of high quality throughout, and the theatrical yet intimate foyer achieves a remarkable spatial drama;
* Landscape setting: Georgina Livingston’s inventive landscaping responds to the sensitive rural site and sets off the formality of the built complex to striking effect;
* Building type and architect: an outstanding example of a purpose-built conference centre, designed by a highly-regarded practice that specialised in this type of work.
Uplands originated as a small country house, built atop the ridge overlooking the Hughenden valley in 1858-9 for one Capt John Maddy Moore Hewett, an Anglo-Indian army officer recently appointed as adjutant to the Royal Bucks King's Own Militia. The building has been attributed (by CR Gee, 1988) to the leading C19 architect Edward Buckton Lamb (1805-69), best known for his unconventional church designs, but also responsible for some domestic work in Buckinghamshire including the remodelling of Hughenden Manor in 1862-3 for Benjamin Disraeli. The original house appears to have comprised entrance hall, library, billiard room, dining and drawing rooms, with bedrooms above and the kitchen, service wing and stable-yard behind.
In 1956, Uplands and its grounds were bought by the Cooperative Permanent Building Society (later the Nationwide Building Society) for use as a conference and training centre, with a new accommodation block built alongside the main house in 1958. More ambitious plans began to emerge from 1978 onwards, when the Nationwide commissioned Edward Cullinan Architects to redevelop the conference centre. The front range of the 1859 house was retained - at the District Council's insistence - but the service wing and the 1958 building were both demolished and replaced, respectively, by a new foyer and dining hall, with symmetrical accommodation wings linked via open corridors. The landscape design, by Cullinan's regular collaborator Georgina Livingston (1941-2013), retained the existing mature woodland and specimen trees, but introduced new walkways, quadrangle gardens, sunken parterres and a maze. The main work was carried out in 1982-3, and the new conference centre opened in May 1984 to mark the Nationwide's centenary celebrations. It won a Civic Trust award in 1986, in which year Cullinan returned to extend the north wing of his layout with a detached training-centre block; he also proposed to replace the former coach house with a further accommodation range, thus completing the courtyard plan, but this remained unbuilt. Apart from Cullinan himself, the architects who worked on the project were Anthony Peake, Mark Beedle, Alan Short, Sunand Prasad and Michael Chassay.
The British conference centre is largely a phenomenon of the post-war years, and particularly of the 1970s and 80s; it owes much to American prototypes, though it also has antecedents in such established building types as assembly rooms and Methodist central halls. Alongside a few giant, municipally-funded convention centres like those at Birmingham (the NEC; 1971-6), Wembley (1972-7) and Harrogate (1978-81), many employers established more modest bespoke facilities where a widely-dispersed workforce could be brought together in an environment conducive to creative discussion and team-building. As with the office 'campuses' of the period, increasing car ownership allowed the use of rural or city-fringe locations, often in the grounds of former country houses. Important examples include James Stirling's Olivetti conference centre at Haslemere in Surrey (1969-72, extending a house of 1901; Grade II*) and Cullinan's extensions to Minster Lovell Mill in Oxfordshire (1967-76).
Edward ('Ted') Cullinan (b.1931) was born in London and studied architecture at Cambridge University and the Architectural Association. His first work (1955-6) was the restoration of a ruined Sussex lighthouse on a plan inspired by Corbusier's pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp, France. While construction was still underway he crossed the Atlantic to take up a one-year scholarship at Berkeley, where he was inspired by Beat culture, the American Arts and Crafts tradition of Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Californian houses of Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler. On his return he joined the practice of his former AA tutor Denys Lasdun, with whom he worked on the new University of East Anglia campus at Norwich; he also worked independently on designs for several smaller houses, including a mews house for his own family in Camden (1963-4). Edward Cullinan Architects, established in 1965 and reorganised as a co-operative in response to the events of 1968, gained a number of public-sector housing commissions during the 1970s, followed in the 1980s by work for commercial clients (including the headquarters of Ready Mix Concrete at Thorpe Park in Surrey, 1986-90) and educational foundations (a special school at Westoning in Bedfordshire, 1979-88; the new theatre at Winchester College, Hampshire, 1982-4). Many Cullinan schemes involve cloister- or campus-like developments in landscape settings, and/or the incorporation of historic buildings into new layouts - themes which link his early work at Minster Lovell with, for example, his visitor centre at Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire (1987-92). More recent work by the practice, maintaining its long-standing concern with environmental sustainability and social responsibility, has included the Stirling Prize-shortlisted timber 'gridshell' at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex (1996-2002, with Buro Happold). Cullinan himself was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 2008.
Conference centre, 1982-6 by Edward Cullinan Architects with landscaping by Georgina Livingston; incorporates part of a country house of 1858-9 attributed to EB Lamb.
MATERIALS: the 1859 house is built of yellow brick, with sparing use of stone dressings and grey brick diaper-work in the outer bays. The parapet was rebuilt in red brick by Cullinan, to match the brick bands and dressings used - together with squared Portland stone rubble and a superstructure of dark-stained timber and glass - in his additions. Here, a further colour contrast is provided by the door and window frames, which are powder-coated a brilliant blue.
PLAN: Cullinan's plan combines clear references to the Palladian villa tradition with overtones of a traditional university college. What remains of the old house is the front range with its suite of formal reception rooms, now used as a bar and as 'prestige' meeting spaces. This has become the centrepiece (the 'pivot', as Cullinan expressed it) for an expansively symmetrical Palladian composition, with matching pavilion wings to right and left connected by open corridors which return at both ends to form three-sided cloister quadrangles. The corridors converge in the centre on a double-height foyer and circulation space with a dining hall and lecture room behind; this is attached to the back of the old house in place of the original service range. Most visitors approach the complex from the car park to the north, via a hedge maze and a flight of steps aligned with the principal corridor, thus establishing a new axis at right-angles to that of the house. The outer wings, and the intermediate blocks set astride the main corridor, contain study-bedrooms accessed from open, Oxbridge-style staircases; only the tall end pavilions are enclosed. The left-hand wing has a row of garages at basement level, while the right-hand wing contains sports facilities and a common room. At the end of the left-hand wing, and aligned with it, is the training centre block added in 1986.
EXTERIOR: the surviving front range to the 1859 house is in a plain Tudor-Gothic style, characterised by big rectangular sash windows with Gothic joinery details set in recessed pointed surrounds. A two-storeyed E-plan building of seven bays arranged 1:2:1:2:1, it has gabled, bay-windowed outer wings flanking a narrower centrepiece, the latter sporting a decorative ironwork balcony carried on three massive stone corbels. Apart from the demolition of the service range, Cullinan's main alterations to the house were the removal of the front porch, the rebuilding of the crenellations in red brick, and the insertion of large circular windows in the backs of the wings.
Cullinan's additions gesture towards the historicism of the 1859 house whilst introducing forms and materials that are explicitly of the modern age. Each of his various blocks is divided horizontally between a solid-looking masonry base (limestone panels framed by bands of red brick) and a lighter and more overtly contemporary superstructure of dark-stained timber with infill panels of vertical boarding and plate glass. Many features, such as the complex notched sections, lattice-like exposed timber frame and deep oversailing roofs with hanging rain chains, suggest Far Eastern influences. The two outer pavilions are taller than the house itself, rising to four storeys where the middle portion breaks through the main gable to terminate in a smaller gable of its own - a device recalling the double-pedimented facades of Palladio's Venetian churches as well as villa designs by English C18 architects like Robert Taylor and James Paine. The lower two-storey blocks behind feature split-pitched roofs with clerestory windows to the upper bedrooms. The block to the rear of the house, containing the foyer, dining hall and lecture room, is a big barn-like structure with galleries along the sides and a broad louvred gable-end set above two opposed flights of stone steps.
INTERIORS: the ground-floor rooms in the 1859 house have been much remodelled, but retain fireplaces, decorative plaster cornices, skirtings, doors and window shutters. The library, to the right of the entrance, is wood-panelled with built-in shelving.
The principal interior of the Cullinan phase is the foyer, a multi-purpose area designed for conversation and impromptu working as well as for reception and circulation. A double-height hall with an open timber roof glazed at the ridge, it is dominated by two broad curving flights of steps - designed to be sat on as well as climbed up - which are wrapped around a pair of tall capsule-shaped 'pods' containing reception and cloakrooms with toilets above. The foyer is spanned from back to front by a dramatic raking steel bridge, which connects the first-floor lecture room at the back of the building (another top-lit space with an open-truss roof, able to be divided down the middle to form two smaller rooms) with the offices and seminar rooms in the first floor of the old house. The bridge, and the galleries linked to it, have curving steel balustrades inset with slatted timber benches and lecterns.
The external corridors and stairs are floored in plain red quarry tiles which contrast with the white-plastered walls and ceilings. The bedrooms are enlivened spatially by split-level roofs and complex fenestration. All are ensuite; those at ground level have French doors opening directly into the gardens, while the first-floor rooms in the pavilions and in the left-hand wing have balconies.
EXCLUSIONS: The former coach house and stable block to the north east of the main building and the remaining portion of the walled garden to the east, are both excluded from the listing.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.