These designs for Historic England’s HQ and the country’s major repository of data and photographs on historic sites and buildings are an exemplar of how state of the art current technology can be sympathetically integrated with historic buildings.
To enable the centralisation of previously scattered (and cramped) services the renovation of a complex of 19th and early 20th century railway offices built over 80 years on behalf of successive chief engineers of the Great Western Railway was undertaken. These were robust, utilitarian buildings that were clearly ‘of their time’ and the client sought a similarly contemporary feel to new insertions and additions.
Complementary to this was a requirement for laboratories and a bespoke archive store in which to house, in a tightly controlled environment, the most delicate of the collection’s objects.
The essence of the design solution is that the new building is ‘hinged’ to the old complex via a transparent glazed ‘bridge’, its siting creating a courtyard for staff use.
The buildings were neglected and blackened externally, but largely sound in their structures. The policy of minimum interference with the fabric was adopted: the stonework was carefully cleaned, defective windows repaired with reclaimed timber, Welsh slate restored to the roof in place of British Rail’s asbestos cement sheets.
Inside, a similar approach led to full height shafts between masonry walls for service areas and as much open plan space as possible. The L-shaped former drawing office of the Great Western Railway now houses Historic England’s treasure trove of data and photographs.