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Durham Cathedral’s Open Treasure is a world-class exhibition experience funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Throughout the project, Purcell led the delivery of an extensive programme of restoration works and the newly renovated site enhances its position as a focal architectural destination in the North of England.

In February 2020, Purcell completed the internal lobbies which marks the final stage of the cathedral’s Open Treasure project. Our various projects across Durham Cathedral have increased accessibility, made visible areas of the building that were once hidden, whilst celebrating the cathedral’s rich architectural heritage.

Context

Purcell have been involved in Durham Cathedral’s Open Treasure project since its inception in 2010. Via four phases of work, Purcell have widened public access to the cathedral’s 'hidden treasures' which include architectural spaces as well as objects from the cathedral’s collection.

Purcell’s initial development of The Framework Conservation Management Plan established a structure for understanding the building’s historical significance, conservation needs and capacity for change across the site.

In addition, the Quinquennial Inspection Report identified the urgent need to address both conservation and repair of the claustral building and significantly improve the environmental conditions (which store the cathedral's collections across the site).

Our team decided that the greatest potential for spatial and accessibility improvement lay in the buildings and areas surrounding the cloisters (which were largely inaccessible and in urgent need of repair).

Purcell Partner and Cathedral Architect, Chris Cotton

Monk’s Dormitory

The late fourteenth-century Monk’s Dormitory is one of the most spectacular Medieval English halls and since 1856, it has functioned as a library. Purcell transformed the dormitory into an exhibition space displaying Durham Cathedral’s collection, featuring cherished objects such as the Anglo-Saxon stones.

Our team also made the dormitory an accessible space by adding a new lift, incorporating sensitive lighting design, whilst also ensuring its use as a working library.

Cathedral shop

Purcell have designed a new shop within the cathedral's 13th-Century undercroft. The minimalist design of new glazed screens enhances the Medieval architecture whilst creating an exquisite space for the shop and restaurant.

The cathedral’s in-house team manufactured the furniture and great care was taken over lighting and material choice to ensure it would complement the historic context and architecture.

The Great Kitchen

The Great Kitchen is a rare example of a Medieval English monastic kitchen. The spectacular space has a distinctive octagonal and high rib-vaulted ceiling and is now the home of the Anglo-Saxon collection, Treasures of St Cuthbert display. Purcell transformed and conserved the space by restoring the roof vault and walls’ decaying stone, whilst also installing a new limecrete floor.

The internal environment was also improved to provide stable and safe conditions for the fragile Saxon silks, manuscripts and artefacts. Afterwards, the interior was relit to illustrate the spectacular architectural and archaeological qualities of the room.

Library and reading room

The Refectory Library contains the cathedral's collection of rare early printed books, housed in the former Medieval Refectory, re-fitted in the early 18th Century.

Purcell 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.

Restoration

The team's introduction of contemporary modern materials, such as low iron, low reflectance structural glazing with natural metal detail creates a clear distinction between old and new. Lighting was a key component in revealing the form and surface of the historic spaces.

The poor environmental conditions within the space resulted in surface deterioration. Throughout the project, the team undertook significant material repair to the deteriorated stonework and a range of techniques were used to ensure that the maintenance of the overall character of the building and conserve in-situ the upstanding above-ground archaeology of the fabric.

The implementation and site coordination of the project had to be carefully managed around the live site and the cathedral's ongoing activities. Archaeological investigation and excavation was a major consideration that was incorporated into the project programme.

Collections Gallery

The Collections Gallery showcases precious artefacts in a state-of-the-art space. Our team renovated the space 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, and this required complex archaeology and dismantling of low significance fabric.

Internal Lobbies

In February 2020 Purcell completed the Internal Lobbies to Durham Cathedral’s north and south doors which marks the final stage of the cathedral’s Open Treasure project.

The lobbies delicately frame the architecture of doors, improve visitor access whilst maintaining the environmental conditions inside the space. Their transparent and minimalist design opens up visibility inside the building and onto the cathedral’s cloister.

Community

The volunteers, friends of Durham Cathedral and the wider community has shaped and supported the project throughout, which has led to a range of community engagement and art-related projects. The project has also improved the cathedral’s educational offer to schools and incorporates flexible space for educational activity.

There has been an increase in visitor numbers to the region, supported by other tourism offers that support the wider regeneration of the region. The project has also provided the basis for heritage skills training and a number of jobs have been created throughout the project to support the delivery of the activities and offer to the community.

The newly renovated Durham Cathedral enhances its position as a focal architectural destination of the North. The various projects within the cathedral's Open Treasure project have created increased access and brought to life the cathedral's previously hidden architecture and artefacts.

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