Home to a plethora of architecturally impressive buildings, old and new, Cornwall charms visitors and residents alike at every turn. You may come for the sea air and local fish, but you stay for the beauty of the landscape, both built and natural.
Cornwall is an incredibly diverse county in terms of its building vernacular. It’s not all beach huts (although they are gorgeous) but the
backdrop – that glorious coast line, certainly does make for an extraordinary scene setter.
Mr & Mrs Clarke caught up with Nicholas James, architect and Founding Director of Truro based KAST Architects, to chat about the
county’s rich and diverse architectural history, conjuring much more than coastal chic dreams, although, they’re not bad
dreams to have, right?
sea edge. Anthony Greenwood Photography.
KAST Architects was founded in 2014. A young, dynamic practice, Nicholas has a deep connection and interest in regionalism and responding to locality and climate with his concepts. Based in Truro, Cornwall’s only city, the team has a penchant for bespoke houses (they’re saying all the right things to us). Having grown up in Cornwall, Nicholas is completely aware of how special this UK spot is. But, as an architect he has made it his mission to travel and work outside of the country, for perspective and appreciation of home, “I made a conscious decision to travel further afield and worked for a time in the Far East, before returning to the UK. In 2011 my wife and I made the move back to the county to bring up our two young boys – possibly the best decision of our lives.” When it comes to Cornwall, there really is no place like home.
“In 2014 I set up KAST Architects to specifically design low carbon and low environmental impact buildings. This approach to sustainability underpins everything that we do and is important to us and our clients at a local Cornish level as well as globally.”
Visiting Cornwall is a treat for the senses, but to live there, in amongst the beauty of its architecture and unique landscape is something
entirely on its own, revealing more than it may first seem, as he explains, “Cornwall has a rich history of fine buildings. Going way back to the
ancient Iron Age settlements such as the courtyard houses of Chysauster in Penwith (they certainly knew how to design in response to site
and climate), through to the Tate St Ives, the signature buildings at Eden and more recently the wonderful new pedestrian bridge at Tintagel.
However, it is the working fishing villages of places such as Mousehole, Cadgwith, Polperro, Mullion, and others, with their solid granite walls
fronting onto the sea that best reflect Cornwall.”
sylvania. anthony greenwood photography.
SO, on the subject of reflecting Cornwall in its most spectacular light, Nicholas divulges how KAST designs “in response to the wider
context…” avoiding becoming a pastiche of the image of the county. “Superficial ‘styles’ come and go so we work hard to understand the
essence of the place, its history and evolution. With much of the county falling within designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we
strive to ensure our designs respect the landscape through their form, mass and choice of materials. The coastline, hills, valleys and rivers will
be here long after our houses are gone, so we have to remember that we are temporarily borrowing the sites that we build on.”
With sustainability high on the agenda for many home owners and buyers, designing with mindfulness and an awareness on the part of
KAST’s private clients, is top priority and reflected in material choices, which you’ll discover upon seeking out their work. “Our clients are
increasingly demanding more carefully designed energy efficient buildings. Our buildings are therefore built using timber where possible and
we are constantly exploring ways in which we can reduce the amount of concrete and steel.”
KAST Architects’ studio is based in Truro, a one-of-a-kind city boasting a melting pot of materials and a ensemble of contrasting builds, designed and conceptualised over time. “Truro really came to prominence in the 18th and 19th Centuries on the back of tin mining to the west and the north of the area. Wealthy mine owners built grand houses in the town, as it was then, and Lemon Street was built in the early 1800s using expensive imported Bath stone… As with any city, the look and feel has evolved over time and in between the Georgian Terraces there are examples of functional modernism, mid 20th Century brutalist architecture and the post-modern Courts of Justice by Evans and Shalev from the late 1980s.”
It would be remiss of us not to nudge Nicholas on his favourite thing about Cornwall, even if it feels impossible to pick one thing. Luckily, that salty ocean spray is as intoxicating to him as it is to us, “It has to be the sea. The ocean has formed Cornwall both geographically and spiritually and to be able to live within minutes of the beach is part of the joy of living here. There is such variety, from the rugged north and west coastline to the more sheltered waters of the south, there is something for everyone.”
Finally, a favourite town? “For me it is Penzance. The back streets behind the harbour hide a host of gems, including the eclectic architecture of Chapel Street, the intimacy of Regent Square and the sub-tropical Morrab Gardens, before opening out onto the recently renovated Promenade and the Grade II Listed Jubilee Pool, complete with geothermal heating!”
So to summarise? Cornwall is a symphony of architectural delights; an ever-more exciting place to live.
With thanks to Nicholas James at KAST Architects for chatting to resident wordsmith, Jade Scott, on all things architecture in Cornwall.