Charleston

Q&A with Pup Architects

Learn more about the team behind the bold and playful bespoke stage in our new open-air venue, The Yard - Pup Architects, what inspired their design and how they created it.

‘Good design goes beyond pure function – it has the ability to communicate and to embody a spirit of a place.’

– Pup Architects

If you’ve visited us recently, you can’t have missed the latest architectural addition to our site – a bold and playful structure standing tall above the old flint wall. The brightly coloured bespoke stage was designed and constructed ahead of our upcoming programme of outdoor events, for our new open-air venue, The Yard.

We caught up with the team behind the design, London-based architecture and design trio, Chloë Leen, Theo Molloy and Steve Wilkinson – also known as Pup Architects.

A portrait photograph of three people. The man on the left in a white shirt sits on a plinth with his legs crossed. The man in the middle is all in black. The woman on the right is looking to the left of the frame and has her hands in her pockets.

Pup Architects; photograph: Elena Heatherwick

Tell us a little bit about Pup Architects…

We did our first project together in 2012 whilst we were still studying and have worked together since then – we formed the company 4 years ago. Despite being a small studio, we like to keep a broad reach of project types from private homes to masterplans, public buildings, exhibitions and interiors. In recent years we’ve built an experimental rooftop pavilion clad in drinks packaging; designed a masterplan of a 1 hectare Victorian dock site in East London, and completed a major refurbishment and public landscaping of Surrey Docks Farm – a city farm in Rotherhithe. At the moment we’re working on a number of private homes as well as a new building for a charity specialising in outsider art in Margate.

What do you value in good design, and what things are important to you when creating a design?

Good design goes beyond pure function – it has the ability to communicate and to embody a spirit of a place, use or community. We are committed to integrating sustainable values in all of our work, which encompasses how things are made, material choices, where they come from, and what happens to them afterwards.

Photograph of an interior space. White built-in cupboards line the back wall. A bright red unit is on the left, and a bright turquoise and yellow cupboard to the right. Two turquoise chairs are on the floor, one has fallen over. You can see black beams overhead.

Surrey Docks Farm; photograph: Simone Bossi

What inspired your design for the new stage?

The structure of the stage is really inspired by the amazing big roofs of the local barns, which are a strong part of the Sussex vernacular. We like the simplicity and straightforwardness of this kind of agricultural architecture, and the stage is imagined as half a barn roof opened up to the yard and the audience. The colours of the cladding are of course inspired by the amazing interiors of Charleston itself. Like the house we wanted the stage to reflect a sense of exuberance and vibrancy and to create a strong backdrop for the summer of events.

Tell us about the materials used in this design, and your building methods?

The materials used in temporary projects can quickly become waste once their use is over. We addressed this by using only solid timber construction, fixed together with bolts and screws. Sustainably sourced timber is one of the lowest carbon materials to build with. We designed it to be easy to construct, and timber as the end-waste will be low-impact – it quite simply can biodegrade.

We chose the paint supplier, Colour Makes People Happy in Lewes for their natural and eco-friendly approach to paint-making; as well as for their great range of colours. They use non-toxic ingredients including chalk and linseed oil sourced from the South Downs.

A photograph of a wooden construction - a multi-coloured outdoor stage

The Yard at Charleston; photograph: Natalie Duff

You didnt just design the stage, you built it yourselves – do you enjoy being hands on with the build? 

Yes we enjoy it a lot and have built several similar scale projects in the past. It’s quite empowering and a great way to really connect with the way things are made and to understand the consequences of a drawing. The profession of architecture is relatively new in comparison to the history of construction.

Does it feel good to be building something that will be used for in-real-life events again? How did the Pandemic affect your work?

Yes we can’t wait to see it used! The fact that it was for in-person events and post opening-up was a big factor in our design. We wanted to make something really celebratory and capture the joy of being able to do things together again. Whilst we have lots of projects in the pipeline, this is our first completed build since before the pandemic so it’s also something celebratory for us.

The view out of a glass fronted building with pitched roof. There is a man wearing a hat stood outside on the left. In the centre in the distance is another person.

Surrey Docks Farm; photograph: Simone Bossi

Had you visited Charleston before you were commissioned for this project?

We didn’t know much about it, but when we visited at the start of the project we found it so amazing and inspiring. It’s been great to get to know more about it – its aesthetic and ethos have definitely fed into the design. We feel really lucky to have been able to spend an extended amount of time on-site during the build. Learning about the Bloomsbury group through an engagement with the house has been a real privilege.

How does it feel building something so contemporary at such a historic location? 

We think it feels quite appropriate to bring something quite new and expressive into the site. It really stands out against the landscape and the palette of natural colours – stone, flint, clay – of the buildings. Although the design is striking it still has a strong connection to the place through its materials (timber and chalk paint) and colours inside the house. We also spent a lot of time carefully choosing its positioning and location so that it sits comfortably in its context creating new views of the house and stage from a distance.

A photograph of a wooden construction - a multi-coloured outdoor stage

The Yard at Charleston; photograph: Natalie Duff

The artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were creative and social trailblazers in their time – if they were alive today, what sort of house would you design for them?

We would love to design them a house, they would be dream clients! It would probably be some contemporary interpretation of Charleston in an amazing rural site, very connected to the landscape and planned around a lush garden, with a lot of social spaces for dining and discussion, as well as more private studios and studies that prioritise light and views. Low-energy building would also suit their sense of self-sufficiency – they could also use their land to generate energy and the house might be built from something like rammed chalk from the Downs or hempcrete. They are traditional materials but innovative too, and would be beautiful as a backdrop to colourful furniture and paintings.

Do you see yourselves following in their footsteps and leaving London for the countryside?

Theo grew up in the countryside in Wiltshire so we will always have one foot outside the city. We love the landscape around Charleston and the pandemic has made us really think about where and how we live and work so who knows!

Theres lots of leading creatives set to grace the stage this summer, which are you most excited about and why?

Such a great line-up – we are big fans of Jeremy Deller, Stewart Lee and Anthea Hamilton. We’re also really interested in the decolonisation of the garden movement so would also love to hear Sui Searle.

A photograph of a wooden construction - a multi-coloured outdoor stage

The Yard at Charleston; photograph: Natalie Duff

The Yard opens on 4 June with our first event, Modern Love Stories: Caleb Azumah Nelson with Rosie Wilby. Tickets are on sale now for our summer season of outdoor events and Festival of the Garden. Visit our What’s on page to browse.