Behind the scenes at Matthew Montague Architects

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:01 25 April 2019

Exterior view of the indoor pitch facility for Derby County Football Club

Exterior view of the indoor pitch facility for Derby County Football Club

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Mike Smith travels to the home base of Matthew Montague Architects to discuss the company’s latest imaginative projects.

Matthew MontagueMatthew Montague

Located in a quiet area of leafy lanes and scattered houses, the south Derbyshire village of Longford has the kind of understated beauty that typifies the best of rural England. In the midst of this very English idyll, it is surprising to find one building that looks like the kind of structure more commonly found in rural America. Founded in 1870 by the Coke family of Longford Hall, this was the first purpose-built cheese factory to be constructed in this country. Its initial manager was Cornelius Schermerhorn, an American cheese-maker, who not only brought with him the methods he had employed in the United States, but also imported the design of his American factory.

The factory he built in Longford is a very long, weather-boarded structure that shelters below a slate roof with overhanging eaves. After its closure in the 1950s, the building fell into disrepair until it was rescued by architect Matthew Montague, who has converted the former factory into a 'live-work' space. One part of the building has been fashioned into a superb six-bedroom, open-plan home where Matthew and his wife Marie have brought up their three daughters, whilst the adjacent section accommodates Matthew's architectural practice.

When the Montagues' house featured in Phil Spencer's television series describing The History of Britain in 100 Homes, Marie told the presenter that the conversion of the 19th century timber-framed factory into a wonderful 21st century home had been 'a labour of love'. Matthew added, 'We believe that we have a responsibility to take care of this historic building because the people who have lived and worked in the area for all of their lives see it as their own.'

The care and passion that has gone into this conversion is reflected in all the projects undertaken by Matthew Montague Architects – Matthew and his team always aim to create buildings 'designed to inspire'. This approach has brought them a number of awards, including Derby Civic Society's George Larkin Brighter City Award for 'the best new build in the city', given to recognise the architectural quality of the new headquarters the team designed for Lonsdale Travel Limited.

The new sports facilities at Repton SchoolThe new sports facilities at Repton School

Another of the practice's projects to have received an accolade is a 'green wall' created for the entrance to the Nestlé plant in Hatton. Selected as the 'Architectural Sign of the Year' in the British Sign Awards for 2014, the wall is planted with a variety of flora and has an irrigation system that encourages foliage cover throughout the seasons. It provides a backdrop to the new Nestlé sign and sends out a strong message about the coffee-maker's commitment to sustainability.

These two very different awards reflect the practice's belief that every project requires a unique approach 'to match the function of the particular building and its environment'. A new dining hall commissioned for Foremarke Hall School had to 'fit perfectly into both the historic built environment and the natural rural setting'. The result is a glass pavilion, fully glazed to allow panoramic views of the grounds and woods that surround it and carefully positioned to allow uninterrupted views of the historic Foremarke Hall. When I asked Matthew if the building's prominent eaves had been inspired by those on the Cheese Factory, he said, 'The eaves of the old factory may well have provided some inspiration but the primary function of the projecting roof of the new pavilion is to shield the dining hall from direct sunlight.'

Planned to provide an improved dining experience for more than 500 pupils and to host functions and events, both day and night, the new dining hall is accessed from a large central corridor where dual queueing will halve waiting times. The large open doors of the building and its 'inside/outside connectivity' create a perfect relationship with the natural environment.

Another recently-completed project is the first phase of the re-development of the sports facilities at Repton School. This has involved the creation of a new strength and conditioning gym, a state-of-the-art sports hall, two glass-backed squash courts, changing rooms and seating and storage areas. The external walls of the sports hall are clad in dark and light grey profiled steel, giving the building the clean-cut appearance that characterises so many of the buildings designed by Matthew's team. To celebrate the opening of the new facilities, the school welcomed back a host of Old Reptonians who took part in hockey and netball matches. Although the school has an excellent sporting tradition, the new buildings are designed to inspire the students to strive for further success.

The team at Matthew Montague Architects outside their headquarters at the Cheese Factory  Photo: Cactus Images LtdThe team at Matthew Montague Architects outside their headquarters at the Cheese Factory Photo: Cactus Images Ltd

With the appointment of Frank Lampard as their new manager, Derby County Football Club is also hoping for a successful future. The development of their academy will be a key factor in bringing this about. Matthew Montague Architects will be playing their part by designing a new full-sized indoor pitch linked to the current academy building at Moor Park. The pitches will be covered by a spectacular roof formed by a series of lightweight trusses with stretched translucent fabric anchored to the ground with tensile cables. Describing how the architectural practice has tried to create a true match-day experience for all levels of under-23 teams, Matthew said, 'We have designed a spectator pavilion that straddles two outdoor pitches, with basement changing rooms where player tunnels lead out onto the centre lines of the two pitches.'

Aside from designing educational and sporting facilities, Matthew Montague Architects design apartment blocks, contemporary individual homes and commercial units. The practice has also been engaged in the restoration of Quarndon Hall, the former home of Nancy Bird of the well-known family firm of confectioners. Another recently-completed project has involved the creation of a salon, spa and exercise studio in a long-neglected site in the Ashbourne conservation area. Matthew says, 'The new building, set over two floors of a new courtyard, is designed to respect the lines of the historic burgage plots in the town and is the final piece in a jigsaw linking Dig Street to St John's Street through to the Green Man and Blacksmith's Yard for shoppers and pedestrians.'

Another development designed by Matthew Montague Architects that will bring a big improvement to a neglected area is about to take place in the Derby suburb of Mickleover. The scheme will see the demolition of a redundant service station and car repair garage and their replacement by a group of nine retail units set in a two-storey corner plot at the junction of Uttoxeter Road and Limes Avenue. Looking forward to work starting on the site, Matthew said, 'Finished in high-quality materials, the building should significantly enhance a key location on the edge of the conservation area.'

Having rescued and restored an historic Grade II listed former cheese factory in Longford, Matthew has the added satisfaction of creating buildings of inspiring contemporary design that manage to make their presence felt whilst showing due respect for the historic structures that often sit alongside them. Three decades from now, it would not be surprising to find listing being conferred on one of the buildings designed by Matthew's team, especially that spectacular glass pavilion which sits so comfortably in the grounds of the Grade I listed Foremarke Hall.

The Dining hall at Foremarke Hall SchoolThe Dining hall at Foremarke Hall School

Matthew Montague Architects is based at the Cheese Factory, Longford Lane, Longford, Ashbourne, DE6 3DT

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