MJ Long

MJ Long partner of Kentish and Long architects, work in Cornwall includes Falmouth Maritime Museum and

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and recently the renovation of the Porthmeor Studios and Mariners

Gallery in St Ives. MJ Long is vice Chair of the South West Design Review Panel and a Commissioner for the CABE.

The second talk in the Autumn series was given by MJ Long and her insightful and inspiring talk was a real touchstone toward promoting a wider and well informed discussion for the future of the town.

In her opening comments MJ Long said she had no expertise of St Ives but a fascination with the town; ‘I’m not from here but working with what’s here’. MJ gave an overview of her own experience and perceptions of New England and how the contrasts formed between dense and open spaces are similar to those in Falmouth, ‘the working water frontage keeps Falmouth honest’. MJ explained how the drawings she prepared explored the texture and scale of the Falmouth and how important it was not to dilute the fragile local economy by diluting the commercial route when making larger interventions into the town’s fabric. Her drawings explored and explained the differences she identified and then using Charlestown as a reference she explained how these differences can be horizontal or vertical. MJ stated she was against fictitious architecture as it devalues authenticity.

Video: MJ Long addresses a full Council Chamber

MJ Long continued discussing this difference between openness and density looking at St Ives. She took a tour from Porthminster Cliff to West Beach on Porthmeor, reading the grain and texture of the architecture and explaining how these differences came into being. From the grander residential east side of the town with large Victorian hotels and a pleasure beach through the Westcotts and Hain Walk to the working harbour explaining the architecture of fronts and backs, how the introduction of the harbour road in 1922 had made a commercial opportunity and the backs of buildings were adapted to form frontages. This expedient and opportunistic building changed the character of the harbour. Fore Street presents itself as a coherent street maintaining fronts and backs. The Sloop area brings fronts and backs together and the collision of Chapel and Church architecture. Then Porthmeor beach in contrast with reminders of its industrial past ending in a wild beach.

MJ Long invited the audience to really scrutinise our everyday environment and evaluate it again.

Porthmeor Studios are an ad hoc accretion, not to be preserved as an icon ‘it is the continuity of the activity there that needs to be preserved’.  MJ Long used the example of the Porthmeor Studios to explain how something new is introduced to a historic façade. Then asked how do you put a new building into this context and pointed how once the Mariners Church was once a new building in complete contrast to its surroundings and is still startling in context. MJ pointed that the Tate gallery as a new building occurs at a juncture in the town between different textures and at a junction this introduction works.

MJ explained her view that modern architecture is not without references but authentically fulfils the needs of the user and the materials available so a modern building references and echoes history and if this is done authentically in regard to use and materials it remains modern. Flattening differences weakens the drama and modern architecture should maintain these differences.

This talk was well received by an appreciative audience and MJ took questions. The first remark that this sensitive and pragmatic talk should be given to planning and conservation officers. MJ was then asked how can we protect our town? Her response was uncomplicated; first be clear with developers – what is that matters – be very specific and identify what can change. As she said once it stops changing it stops living so allow change that does not undermine differences.

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