God’s House Tower is a new public arts and heritage venue used by the local community in Southampton.
We transformed the Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, adding a contemporary extension, creating capacious exhibition space and accessible visitor facilities.
The venue now acts as a vibrant entrance to Southampton’s historically significant Old Town and is a beacon of the city's thriving arts scene.
Through a £3.1 million scheme funded by the National Heritage Lottery fund and public grants, we were appointed as Architects and Conservation Architects to transform Southampton's God’s House Tower into a cultural centre fit for exhibitions and arts activities. Now open to the public, the significant Grade I listed building features spacious gallery space alongside a cafe and accessible visitor facilities.
The 700-year-old building was originally one of the defensive gateways into the town. “It’s called God’s House Tower because it was also part of God’s House Hospital which was effectively a shelter for ill and injured sailors in the early medieval period,” says Purcell Partner, Niall Phillips. “It stood empty for a number of years and was last used as the city’s archaeological museum.”
The project was developed by a Southampton-based arts organisation called 'a space' arts which runs projects that provide facilities for local emerging artists, including studios and exhibition space. “They were looking for the opportunity to establish a long-term facility and saw that God’s House Tower needed a use.”
Purcell ran a detailed programme of works, repairing and creatively upgrading the entire building. A challenge throughout the scheme was working with the building’s robust medieval fabric which features thick walls and narrow windows which were formerly gun slots. “It was partly converted in the 1950s to provide an archaeological museum when new concrete floors and stairs were added,” says Niall. “Apart from that, God’s House Tower was essentially a shell.”
Despite the challenges, our team designed a simple contemporary extension to the rear of the building which provides toilets, a library space and a second entrance. We reopened an old doorway to give access to a new cafe and shop on the ground floor and create a new main entrance.
We also created a new vertical circulation route, adding lifts for accessibility and a new way up through the tower. “We had extensive and detailed negotiations to obtain getting the Listed Building and Scheduled Monument Consents and worked with the client body to develop and run the project right the way through to completion,” Niall explains.
An important part of our design was transforming the building’s tower to enable visitors can view Southampton’s docks and harbour. “The beauty of the design is that you can look through the old fabric into the new, contemporary areas — it’s like looking out of a cave,” Niall explains.
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