Purcell is happy to announce that the Open Treasure project at Durham Cathedral has won a National RIBA award for cultural buildings. This is after winning three North East region RIBA awards. It was crowned Building of the Year 2018, a Regional award and the Conservation award.
Durham Cathedral is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The objective was to widen public access to the hidden treasures of the cathedral, both architectural spaces as well as the collections.
The project has created a range of awe-inspiring spaces to display the cathedral collections, creatively using the claustral buildings. Taking more than three years to complete, Open Treasure has made the hidden spaces of the UNESCO world heritage site open to visitors for the first time.
Monks’ Dormitory exhibition and library
The late fourteenth-century Monk’s dormitory is one of the most spectacular mediaeval English halls. The long oak-beamed room is the last monastic dormitory intact in England. It was once divided into narrow cubicles in which the Benedictine monks studied and slept. Functioning as a library since 1856, it is now also an exhibition space displaying Durham Cathedral’s collection, a narrative interactive exhibit and objects like Anglo-Saxon stones. The project made the space accessible and engaging, with a new lift and lighting design, while retaining its use as a working library.
Great Kitchen exhibition space
The Great Kitchen was built in the fourteenth century and is a rare example of a mediaeval English monastic kitchen. The spectacular space has a distinctive octagonal ceiling and high rib-vaulted ceiling and is now the home of Anglo-Saxon ‘Treasures of St Cuthbert’ display. The conservation project consisted of significant restoration of the decaying stone of the roof vault and walls and the installation of a new limecrete floor. The internal environment was improved to provide stable and safe conditions for the fragile Saxon silks, manuscripts and artefacts. The interior was relit to display the architectural and archaeological qualities of the room.
Cathedral shop and restaurant
We created a new shop within the 13th century undercroft. The minimalist design of new glazed screens enhanced the mediaeval architecture, as well as creating an enjoyable space for the shop and restaurant. We followed the cathedral tradition of designing the fittings and using the in-house team to manufacture the furniture. Great care was taken over lighting and new materials to ensure fit within the historic context.
The collections gallery showcases precious artefacts in a state-of-the-art gallery, renovated with exceptionally high levels of environmental control and security. From the Collections Gallery a new stair and lift and opened passageway leads to the Great Kitchen Exhibition space; this required complex archaeology and dismantling of low significance fabric.
Library and reading room
The Refectory Library contains the cathedral's collection of rare early printed books, housed in the former mediaeval refectory, re-fitted in the early 18th century. We have stabilised the environmental conditions including humidity, temperature and UV light to ensure the protection of the valuable books and manuscripts to be read in the adjacent space, a new Reading Room.
The newly renovated Durham Cathedral enhances its position as a focal architectural destination of the North of England. The Open Treasure project has ensured that the monument’s rare collections and architectural gems can be discovered by everyone.
By Jess McCulloch