The "Downland Gridshell" building, designed by Edward Cullinan Architects with Buro Happold as engineers was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other organisations. Essentially it comprises a basement store for our collections with a large open upper floor for layout and repair of frames and use as a conservation workshop. The structural covering of the upper floor is formed by a "gridshell": a lattice of small criss-crossing timbers, that was put together and lowered to form a structural shell with double curvature at all points. It was then covered with Western Red Cedar boards. This ground-breaking structure - the first timber gridshell building in the UK - makes the building unforgettable and inspirational as well as practical.
Some people thought that a modern building like the gridshell would be inappropriate for us: surely we should be building a green oak jointed frame ? Quite apart from the practical difficulties, however - the building is fifty feet wide and a hundred and fifty feet long and would present a formidable challenge to a timber framer - the building expresses the fact that we at the Museum are not trying to live in the past, but rather look to the future, by learning from the past. We like and enjoy the present, but we enjoy it more because of the inspiration we derive from the past. All buildings were once new, and our main enjoyment of timber framing is its sheer quality as a building system. So when we hew a beam and scribe a joint we experience intense pleasure in mastering the techniques of the many generations of carpenters before us, and in handing the techniques on to generations still to come.