A guest blog by Wright & Wright Architects
As new foundations are being poured at Lambeth Palace this summer, we reflect on the other ‘groundworks’ that set the foundations of the project with the Library Team. Moving a collection to a new building takes years of planning and preparation; translating a brief into reality. At this point of physical emergence we share some tips, travails, and innovations encountered along the way.
Located on the edge of the Lambeth Palace site; the new building is conceived as a thickening of the red brick boundary wall of the Palace. It will both provide a protective edge to the street and will open up views to the garden. Crowning the building, the upper room represents an outward-looking aspect; reinforcing the historic connection between Church and State with views to Westminster on the north side of the river.
Site overview showing new library and archive (Wright & Wright Architects)
Defining the need to move
MacDurnan Gospels [MS1370 f.4v-5r.] (Lambeth Palace Library)
Typically there are three drivers that lead to a project to restore, extend or build a new library or archive:
1. the inadequacy of existing facilities to meet conservation standards;
2. additional space needed for growth;
3. the desire to consolidate multiple facilities into one.
… in the case of Lambeth the brief emerged from all three.
In fact, thirteen locations within the existing Grade I listed Lambeth Palace were assessed and measured, including the beautiful 15th century Morton’s Tower; and also the Church of England Record Centre (CERC), the Library’s sister repository, which is housed in a warehouse in Bermondsey.
Supported by the library team we carefully recorded the various existing conditions: where stores had been put under considerable strain over time, with structural reinforcement required to support the weight of the collections; others where little buffering from fluctuations in temperature and humidity had been provided, and instances where parts of the Collection were at increasing risk from atmospheric pollutants inherent in the urban sites.
Example of large-scale media (Wright & Wright Architects)
Understanding the Collection
Lambeth Palace Library is the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the principal repository of the documentary history of the Church of England. The material held at the Library dates from the 9th century to the present day, and its broad scope reflects the office of Archbishop as head of the Province of Canterbury, his national and international roles in leading the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide.
The books, manuscripts, and archives that it holds are of the highest quality and significance. The Library holds many important archival collections, including Archbishops’ Registers from 1279 and the Archbishops’ Papers, the official papers of the Archbishop of Canterbury. These are wide-ranging, covering political and social issues as well as ecclesiastical history in Great Britain and more generally throughout the Anglican Communion.
The papers mainly date from the mid-19th century onwards, although there are small collections for some earlier Archbishops. Individual items of note include the MacDurnan Gospels, produced in Ireland in the 9th century and presented to King Athelstan as a diplomatic gift by the Archbishop of Armagh and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the earliest book printed in Europe using moveable type.
The Church of England Record Centre holds the archive of the central bodies of the Church of England: Church Commissioners, Archbishops’ Council, National Society, and Church of England Pensions Board, as well as the records of their predecessor bodies. The core collections date from 1704, following the creation of Queen Anne’s Bounty (but there is earlier material). The collections reflect the multitude of roles the Church has played in the social, religious, and economic history of England and Wales. The collections also include extensive photographic collections and detailed care files on 16,000 parish churches, many containing guidebooks, postcards, and photographs.
How the collection was measured, boxed, and rationalised.
The new archive spaces will house over 20,000m linear metres of archive shelving for manuscripts, early printed and modern books, records, and deeds.
The librarians measured the existing collections to provide a tabulated matrix for each constituent part: defining linear metre length, depth, and height. From these figures multiplication factors were applied to optimise storage conditions and assign allowances for growth.
Practical considerations of finger space and air flow requirement were meticulously planned and space set aside in the overall array for oversized volumes to be laid flat. An allowance for 25 years future growth was established through an iterative process of briefing and review.
As the design of the archive shelving was developed it became apparent that significant efficiency saving could be made if parts of the printed books collection were re-sequenced. Not only allowing gaining capacity, it has a conservation benefits to place volumes of similar size next to one another.
PD5454 was used as the basis for the standards of the design, along with reference to other documents such as PAS198. Peer review was used to supplement and interrogate strategies and design decisions. Whereas the detail of the systems and monitoring for control is complex, the architectural and structural solution is simple: an air-tight concrete structure housing each archive, providing 4 hours of fire integrity and excellent seals to each archive.
Preparing for the move
The purchase of a new box-making machine was a catalyst for the library team’s long-term project to pack and sort the collection. It is estimated that around 35,000 items needed to be boxed. As of April 2018, around 16,000 bespoke boxes had been made. The boxing project is on course to be completed on time and in advance of the move.
Range of study sheets and schedules for the archive stores (Wright & Wright Architects)
Five lessons learned
1. Strategic planning – feasibility studies were carried out as a first step – to assess sites, determine capacity and define the vision.
2. Ambition – the client set high standards for low-energy and low maintenance that have been worked through the design
3. Conversation & Collaboration – open conversations and forums for debate have allowed permutations to be tested and trialled.
4. Timeframe – from peer review and precedents realistic periods have been set for drying-out and acclimatisation prior to move in.
5. Sense of humour – on such a long term task the project has benefitted from a spirit of inclusion, participation and no shortage of good humour along the way.