Keith Williams Architects' newest museum project welcomes its first visitors
The Novium, Chichester’s new museum which opened to the public 8 July 2012, is the culmination of a 10 year endeavour by Chichester Council to replace the city’s former museum with a new building that would more effectively display the breadth of its collection. Designed by Keith Williams Architects after winning the 2007 RIBA design competition, the Novium, located in Tower Street in sight of the city’s cathedral. At 1,100 sq m it is 2 and a half times larger than its predecessor; a small cellular 18th Century building elsewhere in the city. Listen to a podcast interview between Keith Williams and WAN’s Editor in Chief, Michael Hammond here.
The Novium occurs at precisely the point that historic buildings stop and the grain of the city changes fundamentally. The architectural expression of the museum responds to that contextual shift in both its materiality of pale cast stone surfaces which echo the colour hues of the city’s primary buildings the cathedral, market cross and cathedral tower, and the formal composition which establishes a clearly contemporary architectural outcome.
The unique aspect of the plot is a former car park on which the Museum is sited. It centres on substantial archaeological remains of a series of Roman baths which were discovered in the 1970s beneath the ground surfaces. The baths, part of Roman Chichester (Noviomagnus Reginorum) date from the Flavian period (1st Century AD) and the fragments of the hypocaust are the most substantial Roman extant remains within the city walls. The new museum spans the hypocaust, which have been incorporated in situ into the main entrance gallery as a permanent exhibit and an intrinsic part of a museum.
The Museum contains galleries over a further two floors which have been designed to be flexible allowing both permanent and temporary exhibitions, and education spaces, restoration, research and staff areas. The Museum has over 1,000 geological specimens (primarily fossils), 8,500 social history artefacts and items of ephemera, 3,600+ photographs and in excess of 300,000 archaeological finds, describing the story of Chichester District from geological times onwards. Elements of these are displayed in the galleries changing museological programme. The building is the first part of a phased plan for this part of the city, which includes a residential scheme also designed by Keith Williams to complete the urban block.