North East & Yorkshire, RIBA Awards

Ice Age museum exhibits design excellence

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Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop
Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop

The stunning design of an Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop, won OMI Architects of Manchester a RIBA Award for Design Excellence.

Creswell Crags is one of Britain’s most important archaeological and geological

sites and is currently shortlisted for World Heritage Status.

A dramatic magnesium limestone gorge, fractured by a series of fissures and

deep-cut caves the crags has provided evidence of human and animal activity

dating back more than 50,000 years. Creswell Crags hit the headlines in April

2003 with the discovery of the Ice Age Cave Art which was billed as one of the most important prehistoric finds in the last decade.Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop

The project involved the sensitive design of a new museum and education centre

on this precious site, to interpret the morphology of Creswell Crags and its rich

collection of artefacts that have been brought back home from the likes of the

British Museum.

The new building, constructed by GF Tomlinson, incorporates state of the art

exhibition areas, a research laboratory and library, collection storage facilities, a suite of rooms for education groups, talks and conferences a shop, café and

administration offices.

The building acts as a gateway to the crags and the fragmented form of the new

structure defines a descending sequence of movement that arrives at the foot of

the gorge.  Locally sourced magnesium limestone is used throughout to connect

the building with the indigenous geology.  The raw oak boarding used is aging

nicely and is a fitting response to the woodland setting.  Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop

The building is approximately 1300m2 in area and is roughly five times larger

than the previous visitor centre that was demolished as part of the

redevelopment.

Located within steeply sloping woodland overlooking the gorge, the basic form of the building is that of two long low linear blocks running parallel to the contours of the site over two storeys – the north side single storey and the south face two storeys. The building acts as an intentional visual barrier between the visitor car park and the gorge to ensure views of the site are restricted until an appropriate stage in the visitor sequence. Only once the visitor starts to move through the building will glimpses of the site unfold.

Two magnesium limestone ashlar stone spine walls split the building into two

parallel blocks and define the circulation route through the building. The walls rise above the adjacent primary blocks to enhance the legibility of the circulation route to the Crags.

On the north side of the building, a single storey timber clad structure houses the back-of-house activities such as the offices, storage and maintenance areas.  The ashlar stone walls puncture this element and form a full height cave entrance clearly visible from the car park.Ice Age Museum at Cresswell Crags near Worksop

The southern portion of the building opens up to the stunning views and sunny

aspect.  A two-storey timber clad block with a stone base hugs the circulation

spine.  At high level the timber clad exhibition space overhangs the solid

masonry base containing the education area below.

At the western end of the building, a simple glazed form cantilevers out to form

the second prow of the building containing the coffee shop and providing the

visitor with views towards the Crags.

Housed in the low-level masonry base, the education spaces provide an immediate relationship to the site for kids to wander back and forth to the site.

Sustainable measures include locally sourced building materials such as

magnesium limestone and English oak.  The building is heated using ground

source heat pumps and rainwater is harvested for water recycling. The oak

cladding incorporates bat nests for the 100’s of bats temporarily displaced by the demolition of the former visitor centre.

The building is intentionally discrete and modest, playing a supporting role to the main attraction  – the gorge.  It guides the visitor on their journey and subtly instils a real sense of drama and anticipation.

The building’s eco credentials were recognised in 2010 with a RIBA Low Carbon Award.

David McCall, of OMI Architects said: “Creswell Crags is one of the most

important museum sites we have worked on and is an important progression of

our work in this sector. It is one of the most sensitive sites in the UK, possibly up

there with Stonehenge.  The need for the building to inform visitors – but not

detract from the setting was fundamental and demanded the sort of balanced

approach we are known for.

“Great care has been taken to ensure the site gets the quality of building it

deserves.  We went through a rigorous site selection process to ensure there

was no detrimental impact upon the setting.  Our aim was to create a

contemporary museum building that visitors can move through freely and take in interpretive information in a relaxed and informal manner before they venture outside to visit the caves.

“The museum is in effect a gatehouse to the Crags, directing visitors towards the

site whilst offering important interpretation of what they are going to see or have just seen.  The principal feature within the site is the Crags themselves.  The new building aims to be a complimentary backdrop.  A high quality structure that is a delight to use and move through, but, one that does not overwhelm its setting.”

Creswell Crags Museum is the culmination of nearly ten years of OMI involvement with the site providing a range of architectural services from early feasibility work through to the design and construction of the new museum and footbridge.  The project reflects OMI Architect’s interest in sculptural forms, creating beauty and delight in buildings, whilst responding to the human, social, environmental and spiritual values that inform them to give the architecture depth and relevance.”

Sir David Attenborough and museum patron Professor David Bellamy opened the museum in 2009.

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