In the picturesque coastal town of Watchet, an ambitious vision took root, bringing new life to an abandoned boatyard. The driving force behind this transformation was the Onion Collective CIC, a local, female-led, not-for-profit social enterprise. Their dream was to enhance the culture and economy of Watchet and its surrounding areas, and the result of their dedication is the extraordinary East Quay Arts Centre. Designed by award-winning architect Invisible Studio, this unique development has not only revitalised the area but also garnered accolades for its innovation and community impact.
The development encompasses a range of facilities, each thoughtfully designed to blend seamlessly with the natural landscape and the town’s-built environment.
Contemporary Art Galleries: Two contemporary art galleries showcase the work of local and international artists, providing a platform for creativity and expression.
Artist Studios: The centre hosts 11 artist studios, giving creative minds a space to work, collaborate, and thrive.
Paper Mill and Geology Workshop: The inclusion of a paper mill and geology workshop brings unique elements to the arts centre, encouraging exploration and learning.
Print Studio: A print studio further enhances the creative capabilities of the space, offering opportunities for artists and the public to engage with printmaking.
Restaurant: The ground-floor restaurant not only provides a dining experience but also opens up to a public space, offering a stunning view of the town, the dock, and the sea beyond.
Education Space: An education space serves as a hub for workshops, classes, and events, promoting community learning and engagement.
Accommodation Pods: Five accommodation pods, strategically placed atop the building, offer visitors a unique and immersive experience.
Incorporating the Surroundings
East Quay Arts Centre seamlessly blends into its surroundings. The building design draws inspiration from both the natural landscape and the built environment. The solid plinth, mirroring the harbour wall and nearby cliffs, houses essential spaces such as the reception, the main gallery, the restaurant, and artist studios. External stairs provide direct access to coastal paths, connecting the centre to its beautiful surroundings.
Turning this vision into reality required meticulous planning and execution. MEA Clark, serving as Quantity Surveyors and Contract Administrators, played a pivotal role in delivering the project. Responsibilities included cost planning, tendering, contract administration, onsite valuations, and the agreement of the final account.
East Quay Arts Centre has not only revitalised Watchet but also earned widespread acclaim. In 2023, it received three prestigious RIBA Southwest awards, including Client of the Year, Project of the Year, and the Regional Award. Additionally, the project has been awarded the coveted RIBA National Client of the Year Award, further highlighting its significance in the world of architecture and community development.
The transformation of an abandoned boatyard into the remarkable East Quay Arts Centre is a testament to the power of vision, dedication, and collaboration. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Onion Collective CIC, the innovative design by Invisible Studio, and an incredible project team, Watchet has gained not only a cultural gem but a beacon of hope for its future. East Quay Arts Centre is a shining example of how creative thinking and community-focused projects can revitalise and inspire a coastal town and its surroundings.
Find out more about East Quay Watchet in this early plans video
Watch the interview between Piers Taylor and Georgie Grant from Onion Collective CIC post construction here.
Client: Onion Collective CIC
Architects: Invisible Studio and Ellis Williams Architects
Structural Engineer: Momentum
Landscape architect: LT Studio
Environmental/M&E engineer: Troup Bywaters & Anders