Many UK newspapers have a long history.
The Guardian (Manchester) dates from 1821, The Observer from 1791. Their owner, the Scott Trust, is making this past available through the new Newsroom on London's Farringdon Road, combining archives, exhibition space, a lecture theatre, and spaces for education, meetings and research. Newsroom director Luke Dodd aims to continue the papers' radical traditions in its choice of exhibitions and events.
Current Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger had the idea for the project. Visible across the road from his Guardian office was the 1870s bonded warehouse that has become the Newsroom, converted and extended by Allies and Morrison. Its spaces broadly follow the original plan. A sense of openness begins at the entrance where, at ground level, a sequence of former openings - shopfront, delivery gates, a door and a window - have been largely removed to create a colonnade, though traces remain. Set back from the building line is a continuous glazed wall, now providing an entrance to upstairs offices (for The Guardian itself ), the main public entrance and the window-wall ofthe public cafe. Disposition of the glazing and the blue-grey cut metal signage draw visitors to the central public entrance.
For visitors, the building comes as a sequence of three spaces with transitions between. First the entrance hall, with a walnut-clad wall which continues into the cafe on the right. Ahead is the first transition, where the ceiling drops, with a reception desk and an entrance to the lecture theatre so that it can be open while other areas deeper into the building are closed. Then the main exhibition space opens up, its sense of height enhanced by light from two strips of laylights along its length, shaded by louvres above. This occupies the space of the original courtyard.
This long exhibition space is flanked by a space on either side. One, inaccessible from here, is the large archive store, temperatureand humidity-controlled, fitted with rolling shelving for images, diaries, bound volumes, notebooks, etc. On the other side is the lecture theatre. This can either be closed off as a separate space, using a high-performance mobile screen, or opened to extend the exhibition space. In exhibition mode, the screen, with leaves mounted on ceiling tracks, can either be parked in line on the opposite wall or the individual leaves can be located through the space as display panels. In contrast to white plaster elsewhere, the theatre walls are lined with horizontal timber ribs on aluminium sheet. One end wall opens to reveal bleacher seating for 60, which can be supplemented by 30 chairs.
In the main exhibition space are display 'monoliths', which hold the permanent displays, some interactive. These monoliths have facing panels in storage which can be fixed over the permanent displays to create flat white surfaces for temporary exhibitions.
Very neatly done. The end of the display space is marked by glass 'gateposts' - 5m-high glass boxes that hold some of the bound volumes of newspapers. Then the ceiling drops down into a cross-corridor transition before the new work. A slender concrete-framed threestorey structure has replaced the existing one.
The ground floor is the education centre, where school parties will create their own front pages.
What is most noticeable on entering these new three storeys of spaces is the lightness. A full-height, steel-framed back wall has been created 2-3m in from the building behind.
This arrangement provides a full-width light shaft that brings a remarkable amount of light to the ground floor on a sunny day. The building's back wall is fully glazed apart from three sliding timber doors per floor; the masonry boundary wall is painted white, fronted by black-stemmed bamboos.
Materials, as well as lit space, are evident concerns of the architect. Materials come from a restricted palette and are often expressed separately as changes of surface, semi-detached from their neighbours, almost floating. While most interventions are contemporary, there are also traces in the interior of the former building - repointed panels of original brickwork and roof trusses in The Guardian offices.
The Newsroom is a new idea, one the client is only beginning to explore. In the variety and flexibility of spaces, the architect has provided a framework for this exploration. Talking to Luke Dodd, there is a sense, too, in which the building as it now exists - as distinct from the concepts of the brief - is helping to suggest new possibilities for what the Newsroom may become.
CLIENT The Guardian
ARCHITECT Allies and Morrison: Paul Appleton, Rebecca Huggins
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price and Myers
SERVICES ENGINEER Max Fordham and Partners
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Davis Langdon & Everest
CONTRACTOR Killby & Gayford
GLASS BOOKSHELF ENGINEER Fluid Engineers: David Brookes
DISPLAY MONOLITHS Orna Hanly Architect: Doris Portmann