Aitken Turnbull Architects designs new creative hub centrepiece for Dumfries & Galloway village

07/06/2023
a' the Airts Community Arts Centre

AITKEN Turnbull Architects, the award-winning Dumfries-based firm, has breathed fresh life into one of south-west Scotland’s flagship arts and community hubs.

The freshly extended and renovated A’ the Airts on the High Street, Sanquhar, Upper Nithsdale is set to transform the local landscape by bringing a greatly enhanced creative arts hub to the town. 

Established in 2010 by Upper Nithsdale Arts and Crafts Community Initiative (UNACCI), A’ the Airts sits within the local conservation area which meant that the conceptual design by Aitken Turnbull not only adhered to local planning and regulatory protocols but enabled the team to significantly enhance the layout by creating a series of distinctive, open-plan internal spaces, as Mark Buchanan, lead architect on the project explains.

“Our design was very much driven by the space available. UNACCI purchased the upper floors of the existing building next door, which was to be converted from a flat to additional crafting areas. This purchase did not include any external space, so any new build floor space had to be contained within the current UNACCI garden which is fairly constrained.

So, it was a case of providing a minimal extension and fitting the spaces required into the existing footprint. Externally it the building remains relatively unchanged, but the internal design & the space provided are the key elements of the design.” 

One of the most exciting challenges for Aitken Turnbull was retaining the character of the existing building while adding so much more flexibility internally ensuring the original features were celebrated while enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of the building.

Having now doubled in size, A’ the Airts will be a key attraction for rural Upper Nithsdale as residents in Sanquhar and the surrounding area benefit from a facility which brings innumerable creative opportunities to their doorstep.

It will house a dedicated gallery for local artists to exhibit; an upgraded 50-seater bespoke theatre/cinema area for performances and film showings; a state-of-the-art digital media suite and two craft rooms. 

Upstairs, there is a new hospitality area; an expanded shop where local people can sell their crafts and art; a new Sanquhar Pattern knitting facility and a larger café at the back of the building, leading out to an alfresco area and landscaped garden.

Yvonne Barber, A’ The Airts Centre Manager is delighted with the design and how the facility has become a beacon and focal point for the wider community.

“We live in a rural part of Scotland, so the increased space and the extended facility we can now offer the local community, the creative arts network and any tourists passing through the area positions A’ The Airts as a very special landmark.

“Having more space helps to increase our customer footfall, particularly in our shop and café areas. The flexibility of the overall design created by Aitken Turnbull Architects has ensured the focus is very much on openness, the use of natural light and seamlessly and unobtrusively blending the design for the extended building with what we already had. It’s a top-class design which works so well for us.

Aitken Turnbull Architects has created a high quality and aesthetically pleasing design for A’ The Airts that will benefit the Upper Nithsdale community for future generations.”

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