The Octagon Hall
Achieving a prestigious shortlisting in the RIBA East Midlands 2019 Awards is the magnificently refurbished Octagon Hall in the Pavilion Gardens, Buxton, which reopened following a £3 million project, returning the venue to its original Victorian splendour.
The concert hall now known as the Octagon, was originally designed by the Buxton Architect, Robert Rippon Duke and was opened in 1875. Now, it’s a Grade ll listed building and one of the largest eight sided rooms in Europe.
The project, designed and overseen by Bench Architects and carried out for High Peak Borough Council, has secured the future of the historic complex which plays a key role in supporting economic development and regeneration in the area.
The iconic building had to be closed to the public when condition surveys identified major potential safety issues resulting from deterioration of the building’s cast and wrought iron structure.
The council then commissioned a wide-ranging programme of works including significant structural repairs to the famous Octagon dome, replacement of the floor and the supporting sub-structure, as well as upgrades to the mechanical and electrical plant at the complex.
Detailed solutions to many of the known issues could not be fully determined until each area was exposed. Putting these into practice while respecting the integrity of the building’s listed status and best conservation practice required the development of carefully considered proposals.
Adam Bench of Bench Architects said: “It was wonderful to receive recognition from the RIBA, as everyone worked very hard on the project. It was also very gratifying to see the building open again and being used for a wide range of events.
“We tendered for the work which was originally refurbishment and interior design project. After consideration we advised the council that they faced more severe problems regarding the condition of the building and that a detailed survey was needed. This revealed that the building’s ring beam was severely decayed and that it was in fact a dangerous structure, so the building was closed.
“We subsequently carried out extensive further investigations including detailed paint analysis, and evolved a full specification for the project.”
The scope of the works was extensive. In addition to remediating many structural problems, the scheme included partial re-roofing, replacement of patent glazing, and comprehensive repairs to the timber-framed fenestration surrounding the Octagon.
Some of the building’s cast iron columns had served as hollow rainwater pipes which discharged below the floor, where many of the drainage pipes had been damaged leading to flooding.
Once the floor was lifted, water was discovered below and some of the building’s brick walls had started to collapse, so new footings and underpinning were required. Almost every element of the building needed some repair – for example many of the wrought iron spandrel panels had cracked and extensive metal stitching was needed.
The scheme presented a huge number of challenges including sourcing heritage contractors and specialist conservators with the capability and experience necessary to deliver such complex works. Other key considerations were maintaining a tight contract programme, keeping up to date with constant changes required to documentation, cost control and ensuring that all components were repaired to the required high specifications.
Councillor Tony Kemp, Executive Councillor for Tourism and Regeneration, said: “The buildings at the Pavilion Gardens are amongst the most valued in the High Peak and their importance is increased by the cluster of heritage buildings surrounding them including the Grade I listed Crescent, the Devonshire Dome and the Opera House, not to mention the many smaller – but equally important – historic structures in Buxton.
“That is why we have set ourselves the highest standards for this project.”
The Octagon’s beautiful auditorium can hold up to 1200 guests standing and up to 450 in a formal seated arrangement. A diverse range of events are held at the Octagon including fairs, plays, concerts, charity fundraisers, car auctions, prom nights, award ceremonies and conferences.