The recently completed exhibition space and storage for the Arts Council Sculpture Collection at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, created from an old equestrian barn, he hoped had an “uncanny quality”. The huge scale of the original concrete block building was retained, and all the gallery paraphernalia – the lighting and services – were placed in the ceiling, like the old Saatchi gallery in St John’s Wood.
Working at Camden Arts Centre, which he described as “the last cultural outpost on the road out of London to the North”, he had made a point of not changing anything that worked. The gallery rooms were untouched, but the brief was to improve the entrance to the Centre and make its active community education programmes more evident. In one of the classic tales of battles with the planning authority, Fretton revealed how he had managed to satisfy the planners’ wishes for a symmetrical upper elevation, whilst creating a whole new low-level entrance for the building.
Architecture, he maintained, was about “defeating defeatism”. Through the new entrance, the passer-by on their way out of the capital could see into the rear garden, which the art/architecture outfit Muf is landscaping. Where previously his work had been restrained and cautious – he was conscious of “producing too much architecture” – at Camden “things had become more playful, even wilder”. An ellipse of heavy curtains defined a performance space, its internal ceiling lit with moon/star motifs, which would never have appeared in his work earlier.
Fretton’s believes that buildings can affect the user. “Architects work to produce buildings that affect themselves and hope that will affect others”. He wants the visitor to be gently provoked by the space, and to awake the imagination for a more timeless experience. Nowhere more is this applicable than at his Faith House, which was named the best British building of 2002 by Jonathan Glancy, architectural critic of the Guardian newspaper.