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Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral
Written by Roma Publications

RIBA triumph for Durham cathedral project

Durham Cathedral’s Open Treasure project designed by Purcell Architects, with Simpson York Ltd as main contractors, has won a National RIBA award for cultural buildings.

This is after winning three North East region RIBA awards.

It was crowned Building of the Year 2018, a Regional award and the Conservation award. It is now in the running for the prestigious Stirling prize.

Durham Cathedral is often cited as the best example of Norman architecture in Europe. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, Open Treasure has widened public access to its claustral buildings, the most complete set of surviving medieval monastic buildings in the UK, as well as the Cathedral’s collections.

The visitor journey starts in 14th century Monks’ Dormitory, moves into the newly built Collections Gallery in a space between two medieval buildings, and then the monastic Great Kitchen before returning to the Cathedral Cloister via the Pilgrimage Gallery and the Community Gallery.

The jury noted: “Works to Durham Cathedral are a subtle and elegant addition to the medieval, Grade I listed structure. The architects have created an inspiring visitor experience that celebrates the architecture of the building and showcases its historic collections by remodelling previously hidden spaces. The design seamlessly integrates historic features and modern interventions that include creative repair and conservation and adaptive re-use of historic buildings.”

An earlier phase of Open Treasure included the restoration and refitting of the Cathedral’s western Undercroft creating a stunning new shop. The National Lottery funded project also involved the restoration and installation of conservation measures in the Refectory Library where the cathedral’s collection of early printed books and music manuscripts are kept.

Christopher Cotton of Purcell UK, the cathedral’s consultant architect says, “I am very pleased for Durham Cathedral Chapter and staff and the whole team who worked on this transforming project. It has been a truly collaborative endeavour.

“As architect, my aim has been not only to conserve and repair the outstanding buildings and spaces of the cathedral, but to add to them in an invisible way, so the light, the spaces and treasures can be seen and accessed by all who visit the inspirational place that is Durham Cathedral.”

The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham, says, “We are delighted that Open Treasure at Durham Cathedral has won, these RIBA awards. Our thanks go to Purcell UK, in particular Christopher Cotton; and all the contractors and cathedral staff, who worked on the creation of Open Treasure, a truly unique state of the art exhibition experience.

“The old and the new fit seamlessly together as the story of Durham Cathedral and Christianity in the North East is told through permanent displays and a rolling exhibition programme featuring the cathedral’s internationally significant collections. Challenges such as how to make the spaces accessible were overcome and we have enjoyed welcoming those who have visited Open Treasure so far, and we look forward to many more visitors in the future.

“Open Treasure was made possible by National Lottery players through a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, and other funders, including the Friends of Durham Cathedral. Their generosity has resulted in a magnificent world-class visitor experience for the local community and tourists to enjoy.”

Permanent displays within Open Treasure include the Anglo-Saxon Treasures of St Cuthbert, the relics associated with this much-loved Northern Saint. His wooden coffin, made in 698 and recovered when his tomb was opened in 1827, form the centrepiece of the display in the 14th century Great Kitchen. Images of Christ, the Virgin, apostles and archangels are still visible on these incredibly well preserved oak fragments, making this one of the most important wooden artefacts to have survived since before the Norman Conquest. His gold and garnet pectoral cross, portable altar, comb and vestments are also part of the display.

A rolling exhibition programme takes place in the newly built Collections Gallery that has exceptionally high levels of environmental control and security. Objects from the cathedral’s vast collections feature in a series of exciting exhibitions.

The cathedral’s three issues of Magna Carta and three issues of the Forest Charter have been on display; and at present there is a Tudor themed exhibition that includes a letter from Elizabeth I to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral of 2 June 1589, which bears her distinctive signature.

An exhibition celebrating the coal mining heritage of County Durham opened on the 19 June is followed by an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War in the autumn.

Durham Cathedral

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