Q&A with Stephen Anderson – Director at Buttress Architects

Working with architects is a core part of Mather & Co’s work to enhance the overall visitor orientation around a site and its buildings. Buttress Architects have worked with Mather & Co over a number of years on projects to redevelop and extend sites creating spaces that tell a story and engage with those who visit them. We spoke to Stephen Anderson, director at Buttress to better understand the process and working relationship that delivers world class visitor attractions.

  1. When dealing with a heritage project how do you start to marry an old or ancient site with new architectural designs? 

It begins with the interpretative design process – but it’s important to us to make sure a building or a project is of its time and that it’s clear to the audience. We don’t want to fool people into thinking that the architecture is from the past or that it’s been replicated – we simply want to enhance what’s already there.

  1. How easy or difficult is it to improve visitor orientation around a site? What are the key considerations?

It varies from site to site as to how difficult or easy it is to change things – each building and experience has its own challenges and opportunities. What I would say is that we tend to take an iterative approach. We start with the existing experience and look at what is and isn’t working before we look at how we can improve things. There are simply so many variables, for example, whether we’re dealing with a site that has heritage status, which audiences we need to engage with and obviously the budget available plays a part too. Once we have an idea of those parameters then we can come up with a series of different options to tackle issues in different ways and then figure out which is the best approach. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

  1. When working together with a museum designer like Mather & Co where do you start – what comes first? What are the priorities?

It’s all about the shared aspiration. It’s the most important place to begin because if the architect and the lead designers have the same vision for the project then it’s just so much easier and ultimately more successful. We work in close partnership and the shared vision is the bedrock of our collaboration. When we have a team that starts from the same position, we get brilliant results. From that point onwards it’s all about the communication, understanding each other’s challenges and working towards solving them together.

  1. How does the relationship between you and Mather & Co make or break the success of the project?

We have an excellent working relationship with the team at Mather & Co as we have shared values and aspirations. It makes for a straightforward working relationship and beyond that they are a good team of people who are very enjoyable to work with as well as incredibly professional in their approach.

  1. What’s been the most exciting project you’ve worked on with Mather & Co – and a bit about why?

Undoubtedly, the Norton Priory project was one of the best we’ve worked on together. It’s a 47-acre historic heritage site that contains both the remains of a 14th century abbey complex and an 18th century country house. As a monastic site of international importance, it had been open as a museum since 1982, but we worked to redevelop, extend and create a space that told the story of the Priory and better connect the Priory’s ruins to the museum and gardens whilst improving the visitor orientation around the site.

We used the building as an interpretative device and reoriented the visitor experience so that the entrance was more obvious and related to the wider site better. Visitors approaching the site can see what they’ll experience far earlier on in their visit and can see what’s coming far sooner. For example, on the first floor we deliberately set the window so there were views over the site, allowing visitors to better understand about the monastic remains. An important element within the scheme was an enormous statue of St Christopher, which was sited deliberately in a specific location on the entrance axis with projection and voice over to bring his story to life, as well as welcoming visitors to the Museum. The success of the project and joint working relationship with Mather & Co has been demonstrated in the amazing visitor numbers to the new attraction. Working together has yielded amazing results for Norton Priory.