Monday, 19 November 2012

Matthews Yard, The Last Craftsman

I walk into Matthew’s Yard from the biting October cold with my cycling hat still firmly in place, a habit I have enforced upon myself since my girlfriend made it perfectly clear that it made me look like an idiot, but I love it so the hat stays. Tea bought and a seat found, I finally remove the hat and nervously open my sketchbook. As well as the architecture blog, this is another fragment of my life that I have neglected over the last six months and, as a result, have forced myself recently to correct that failing.

It also turns out that I have not been back to Matthew’s Yard since the bustling grand opening back in April, and although the general layout remains roughly the same as when I last saw it, all the animated and distinctive character that I got a glimpse of on that night has now thoroughly embedded itself within the internal space. Sitting comfortably in the large cafe space one can observe straight away that by making both resourceful and aesthetic use of materials at their simplest form the tactile experience of Matthew’s Yard has been made to feel very homely. By resisting the urge to completely clad every wall, and paint every soffit, the building’s age and beauty is allowed to intertwine with the fresh furniture and industrial fittings that have been employed throughout the space.

The bar is undoubtedly the golden lamp in the room, a vast ten metre pleasantly crafted wooden mass that stands as a foundation for the many pieces of equipment that steam, bang and hiss as they produce their many cups of coffee and other delights. To further add to the character of the bar is the fact that it was cut and erected on site, by hand, by one man. This kind of dedication to a single element of a new build is a rare thing to witness, especially with so many interior design products being available so easily and quickly that with just a few clicks of a mouse or pages turned of a catalogue you can fit out almost any space. However, inside Matthew's Yard you discover the opposite, finding yourself constantly entertained by the delights of such honest things as industrial light fittings, chalkboards and stripped timber flooring, all reminders of the many hands and minds who helped craft this space into what it is, a community hub.

For Matthew’s Yard, however, this kind of dedication and cooperation is not only built firmly into the architecture, but is all part and parcel of the overall operation. At almost any time of the day one can observe people from all walks of life who spend their time organising or socialising within the spaces that Matthew’s Yard has to offer, whether it is someone emailing their friends in far off places or a book club meeting. Being what could be the friendliest 'big' space in Croydon, people appear to treat this establishment as their second home. The precedent Matthew's Yard has set for rejuvenating disused spaces within Croydon is unparalleled, and clearly the straightforward idea of combining a relaxing social environment with a flexible working space has been wonderfully achieved. So surely more projects similar to this can and should begin to appear throughout Croydon, are not the urban and social benefits distinctly evident?

I am sure the lone worker who constructed the wooden bar had no idea about the important social and physical example he was laying down that day, but the fruits of his labour are clear to see and I can only hope it continues to influence the internal space and the new, inspired community that seems to be growing around it everyday.


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