Chatsworth in Derbyshire has for many years influenced – and been influenced by – varying cultures and societies. The first, fourth and sixth Dukes of Devonshire all used various methods to make Chatsworth House their own – retaining the fundamentals but making the interior an agglomeration of differing styles and idiosyncrasies.
Rich Baroque state rooms decorated for visits that never occurred, vivid classically painted ceilings, a trompe l’oeil violin door – a visual feast, no doubt, but one consumed purely, as Edward Crooks states, through passive observation.
Imagining the experience of Chatsworth as one of participatory engagement, Crooks proposes to supplement the estate’s existing historical route with a vertical procession of spaces encased in a pink structure. Both continuing and recontextualising the route through the existing house, the new intervention allows for visitors to directly engage with the programmatic activities previously only observed.
A stage set for Chatsworth’s latest transformation, Crooks’ proposal questions the nature of our built heritage, once objects of such unpredictable change and now frozen as theatrical stage scenery. Influenced by Rem Koolhaas’s view of Coney Island as the ‘the incubator for Manhattan’s incipient themes and infant mythology’, Crooks’ pink intervention is Chatsworth’s incubator, staging fake performances inspired by its history to facilitate change.
This performance takes place on the ground floor, while above rooms subvert the disparate activities in the house itself – a stag room references the family coat of arms, alongside a chapel and a state dining room in which artefacts become giant cut-outs in the walls. The symbolic artefacts that represent these spaces in Chatsworth have become the drivers of activity and participation, and through them we are met with an entirely new way of perceiving, and bringing new relevance to our built heritage.
To encounter the issue of representation in architecture head on, and to do so with such verve and humour, made this project both challenging and enjoyable. In its polemic the project could be misconstrued as a purely postmodern counterpoint to the serious academic architecture and apparent culture of its context. But by deconstructing Chatsworth as an artefact and engaging with the actions, decisions and designs from which it has been composed over time, it celebrates the role architecture has to not only house programmes but to provoke them, to occupy the past in an engaged manner rather than in the mode of passive reflection so often promoted as historical interpretation. It is graphically delightful and mimics the exuberant culture that is so commonly lost in the translation of past culture, bringing it up to date with new audiences.