Building Restoration

Restoring this Grade-A Listed Building into the active space it is today was a remarkable feat. Following intense design and construction works, the building now hosts business and event activities while celebrating and preserving the Phoebe Anna Traquair murals and the historic building itself.

The Trust appointed Scottish architects Simpson & Brown to develop and oversee the design of the works. The works were carried out by Morrison Construction as main contractor using a number of specialist subcontractors. Works took two years and were completed in June 2002.

The offices were scoped to provide space for around 60-70 staff with meeting rooms and the usual back-office facilities. The events space was designed to make the best use of the vast clear span of the Nave. Even in the late 1990’s event management companies were seeking niche spaces such as the Mansfield Traquair Centre to provide a backdrop for a wide variety of events. Specialist advice was taken to ensure that as much future proofing as possible was considered within the design so that the building was likely to be fit to provide the necessary space and services for as wide a range of events as possible.

The inclusion of a false floor in the events space to accommodate the heating system also allowed for the installation of a matrix of service ducts in order that lighting and power can be distributed across the floorspace without the use of trailing cables.

Event sound and lighting also usually means trailing cables vertically to provide top lighting. This raised concerns that the murals may be damaged by temporary use of scaffolds or dragging cables across the murals from the clerestory level. This was overcome by the installation of hard lifting points within the barrel vault roof. Above the ceiling, there is access for lighting rigs to be attached to these hard points, having been built up on the floor and raised using the winch points without risk to the murals. The lifting points are regularly tested as part of the building maintenance regime to ensure safety.

Incoming service ways were also built into the refurbished building to allow for TV and external power with an external plinth created for temporary generators and outside broadcast equipment.

Specialist lighting was designed to provide for lighting the murals and also to light the spaces for normal use. The main chandeliers can be lowered to the floor for re-lamping and the lights can be controlled to provide different themes. And in the side aisles, the existing ventilation holes in the timber ceilings were used to provide power access and support for the lighting there.

Given that the building was also likely to be used for very large dinners and other similar events, consideration was also given to how a kitchen could be installed. The upper floor of the attached vestry building was used for this purpose and has been fitted out as a fully functioning event kitchen capable of catering for ~400 people.

Today, the upper spaces are used for weddings, conferences and have also been used from time to time for television use such as Question Time and election or referendum broadcasts.

A new stair was created within the baptistery building. As this was one of the later additions noted earlier, there was no continuity of foundations between the main building and the baptistery. It was also discovered that the baptistery building was peeling away from the main building due to support issues.

This was overcome by using a system of support piles during the construction of the stair well and lift. Piles were drilled into the surrounding area and a ring beam created to underpin the baptistery and then the whole area beneath it was excavated to form the new stairwell. During this work, a former cobbled yard was uncovered, and archaeological records made. The stair and lift now provide access to the main event space toilets and also provide a further means of access/egress to the offices to meet fire escape regulations.

The Nave had originally been supported by a series of slim circular columns. (The blue columns on the photo already in place on the staging site). A temporary frame (the red steels) was erected during the works to allow these columns to be removed and a new permanent support framework to be installed and the lower floor level reduced by around one metre.

The window openings of the office below the Nave on the south side are original having been constructed in the lightwells that still exist today. On the north side, the windows were extended to a lower level to increase the amount of natural north light into the office spaces. New windows were inserted on both sides with leaded glass used on the north side.

A new structural frame to support the Nave space was designed in concert with the mechanical and electrical services with the transverse members being sized to accommodate the air handling ductwork and other service routes. The mezzanine flooring was also designed to appear as light as possible with a central atrium to allow better air flow and transfer of natural light across the office spaces.

The timber flooring in the offices was reclaimed from the original building. And as many of the original panelled timber doors as possible were re-used during the works. Minor additions were then made to bring the doors up to the required fire standards.

Externally, the building envelope was refurbished during the main works. Numerous stones were replaced with an on-site masonry yard set up to fine-tune the cutting and tooling of the stone to match the existing.

The whole slate roof was stripped with, fortunately, not too many of the sarking boards needing to be replaced. Existing and second-hand Scotch slates were used to refurbish the roof. The terracotta clay ridge tiles were all replaced with new ones with the originals being used as a template.

Electrical and data servicing of the building is all new, with ducts provided to ensure that in future re-cabling can be done without damage to the historic structure and finishes. The heating is currently gas-fired. The Trust is aware that it is likely a new solution will need to be found to meet fossil fuel reduction targets. The existing boilers could, potentially, be swapped over for alternatives as access for such replacement was part of the design process.

Finally, to manage the ambient environmental conditions, there are embedded sensors that report to a monitoring console so that any changes to moisture levels within the walls and timbers can be recognised speedily and alterations made to ventilation or heating to prevent damage to the murals and surface finishes.

Building exterior during restoration works with scaffolding to enable roof re-slating

Building exterior during restoration works with scaffolding to enable roof re-slating

Excavation works below the Nave to create lower office spaces

Excavation works below the Nave to create lower office spaces