Bisset Adams was the architect for a new repository and refurbishment for York ‘Explore’ archives as part of the ‘York: Gateway to History’ project. It received the York Design Award in 2015, with judges recording ‘quietly delighted surprise that such a large construction project could be grafted onto an important and existing building in sensitive location in a way that is both exciting and sympathetic.’
The new repository takes the form of a shiny metallic box with interlocking bronze boxes as a linking ‘airlock’ device to the existing building to condition archives being moved for viewing. The designs were approved by English Heritage as an appropriate addition to the historic location within the ‘Mint Yard’, close to York Minster and incorporating the Roman walls of the city.
The design of the new repository offers both technical and aesthetic quality. The new extension is situated on top of a single storey wing of the Grade II listed early 20th Century central library, with a modern cladding of structured steel and a linking device of bronzed interlocking boxes. Locating a heavy object (housing rolling storage) on top of a single storey wing involved finding high quality engineering solutions as well as a modern aesthetic to complement the historic surroundings. A steel ring beam and a lightweight plywood construction clad in steel provided the requisite weight and environmental performance.
The HLF-funded £2 million project also involved the refurbishment of the public reading rooms in the York Explore archives, to create an engaging experience with family reading and research room as well as a secure reading room. and a new timber construction to create a mezzanine for group working with breakout space below. A new timber installation in the family history room (formerly a stack store) creates a mezzanine level, allowing two new group study areas.
The public areas of the archive have been refurbished, creating new breakout and relaxation space as well as study areas retaining some of the original wooden furniture, with new furniture and colour palette designed to tone with the original.
Extensive consultation with local conservation groups and planners resolved concerns about the modernity of the new extension within the historic environs, and a consensus was reached approving the modernity of the new extension.
The materials of the project reflected this concern for complementarity rather than pastiche, with metallic cladding creating a glowing and intriguing box to house the precious records.
As a PD5454 certified environment, the new archive store is of lightweight timber construction to reduce the loading, and is a closed, highly insulated environment reducing the carbon footprint, despite the energy required to maintain it at constant temperatures and humidity.
The York: Gateway to History project continues through 2015 with a programme of events and activities to encourage as many people as possible to experience the new archive. The new spaces have greatly increased the public engagement in archives and family history, offering different areas for study, meeting, breakout and display, as well as a secure reading room for the viewing of documents such as the city’s 12th century charter and a letter of condolence on the death of Richard III.