(Hol)burne again

Friday 13 May 2011

Eric Parry Architects' modern extension to 18th century museum opens tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, the artist behind a wealth of pop artwork including the sleeves for iconic albums such as The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Oasis’ Stop the Clocks Sir Peter Blake will open the doors to a crystalline extension to one of Bath’s most impressive 18th century buildings.

Since its construction in 1796, the stunning Georgian building has been utilised as a hotel, museum and gallery, and is set in a rambling 18th century Pleasure Garden, Sydney Gardens. In 1913, the Holburne Museum was taken on by architect, landscape gardener and writer Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield, who transformed it into a home for the substantial collection of paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and porcelain owned by Sir William Holburne.

In 2002, Eric Parry Architects was invited to compose designs for a contemporary extension to the Grade I Listed property, and embarked upon a long journey to form a proposal that was at once fitting with the traditional heritage of both the Museum and the City of Bath, and contrasting enough to mark a new life for the historical building.

The result is a highly-glazed ceramic and glass composition which affords scenic views across the adjoining gardens and enables a flood of natural light to illuminate the precious collection within. A key constituent of the build was to reconnect the existing volume with the thriving flora that surrounds it at ground level, inspiring Eric Parry Architects to form a virtuously windowless unit above, with a transparent façade below, in order to ‘exploit and respond to’ the gardens at the rear of the site and the classical architecture of Great Pulteney Street at the front.

As such, the extension has been encased in a mottled ceramic material as a deliberate contrast to the original façade. On the first floor, the solid ceramic façade steps back behind the glass then steps away completely below, creating a subtle play on shadow and reflection.

Inside, the majestic staircase has been repositioned to stay in line with current health and safety requirements and simplify internal way-finding. A café on the ground floor inspires an evolving relationship between the Museum’s visitors and Sydney Gardens, with the laminated low iron glass veil inserted free of complex jointing to create apparent lightness.

Eric Parry Architects explains: “The largest plan area is given to the new top floor gallery, the first floor and mezzanine are drawn in by 800mm and to dissolve the apparent structure at ground floor level two smaller piers are offset from the corner at three corners, the fourth being a stabilising fin wall that also carries a services riser and a new lift.”

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