Matthew Burt wins competition to design furniture for the new Ashmolean Museum Building
Opening in November 2009, the outstanding architectural quality of the new Ashmolean building designed by Rick Mather Architects, and the original Neoclassical building, by C.R. Cockerell (1845) have provided an exciting opportunity for furniture designers and makers to furnish the Museum’s interior.
In association with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, the Ashmolean commissioned a range of flexible visitor seating for the new galleries. A panel of judges, including representatives from Rick Mather Architects, the gallery designers Metaphor, and the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, chose Matthew Burt’s designs from a shortlist of five candidates.
Based near Salisbury, Wiltshire, Mr Burt has established a reputation for creating bespoke free-standing furniture. Examples of his work can be found in public and corporate collections, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, and Norman Foster’s building for the McLaren Group, and in the homes, offices and gardens of clients throughout Europe. His imaginative attention to detail has also been directed at fitted furniture and specialist joinery, resulting in enduring designs and construction.
For the Ashmolean, Burt has designed seating units that are sympathetic both to the modern and traditional interiors of the old and new Ashmolean buildings. Elegant and clean lines with a constructional and conceptual tweak achieve a modern classic style, complementing the simplicity of Metaphor’s gallery interiors, Rick Mather’s contemporary architecture, and C.R. Cockerell’s classical design.
Made of English oak from Duchy woodlands in Herefordshire, the benches feature legs that are made from 40mm square end-grain blocks, sculpted into a gentle curve. Burt’s signature use of end-grains reflects the time taken for the oak wood to grow, a concept that echoes the Ashmolean’s long history as Europe’s first public Museum. The structure of the benches is robust but light, enabling them to be moved to suit a range of visitor needs. 40mm thick long-grain staves are sculpted into a convex curve and glued together, face grain to face grain, creating the strongest join in woodwork, providing comfort and the possibility of sitting on each bench from either side. They can be placed against a wall or in a free-standing position, where sitters will be able to view the gallery displays in opposite directions.
‘Looking into end-grain is looking into the time taken to grow the material, a concept that seemed metaphorically appropriate and in tune with the Museum’, said Matthew Burt.