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Atkins reworks listed Plymouth museum as cultural centre


‘The Box’ is a £40 million project creating a new consolidated archive for the city and museum

Comprising the refurbishment and extension of three Grade II-listed buildings – an Edwardian museum and library, and a 19th-century church – The Box will bring together the display of heritage collections, a contemporary art space and an archive into a single complex when it opens in May. 

The design incorporates seven galleries, six exhibition halls and a specialist archival store, maintaining archives from both the city and the museum. Externally a new public space has been created to link the museum and archive with the art gallery. 

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The Box, Plymouth by Atkins

The new archive has been placed on top of the museum, above a glazed ground-floor reception area, atrium, café and shop, as well as a first-floor study space. This archive is raised 10 metres above ground, and part-cantilevered to the east and south, and is designed to maintain stable temperature and humidity conditions to PD 5454 archival standards, with minimum reliance on mechanical controls.

Adjacent to the site St Luke’s Church, built in 1828, has been restored to create a contemporary space, which is Government Indemnity Scheme-compliant, enabling it to take touring exhibitions. The space includes newly created mezzanine galleries, incorporating original pews. A new chancel window designed by Portuguese Leonor Antunes is due to be installed for the opening.  

In September The Box will provide one of the focuses for the celebrations planned to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing to America. 

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The Box, Plymouth by Atkins

Architect’s view

The Box has been a rewarding project for Atkins, drawing upon the broad skillset of our multidisciplinary team, while personally it has been a great opportunity to make a positive contribution to my student city through the creation of a vibrant new public space that provides improved public access, showcases six of the UK’s national collections and ties together the area’s heritage with modernity in the city’s new cultural quarter.

The play of light and reflection in The Box’s design is one of my favourite features; the ever-changing appearance and colour of the cladding reflecting the weather; the passage of the morning sun across the South Hall defined by the curtain walling mullions and the figureheads; and the afternoon sun reflected on to St Luke’s from the glazed façade.

Kevin Presland, senior architect, Atkins

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The Box, Plymouth by Atkins

Client’s view

We wanted to put our incredible archives front and centre of The Box and where these precious documents should be stored formed a key part of the design. Rather than being in a warehouse or basement, we wanted them to reflect how important they are by creating something bold and striking. The Box is on a dense inner-city site and the only way to build was up.

Caroline Cozens, programme manager for The Box, Plymouth City Council

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The Box, Plymouth by Atkins

Project data

Start date November 2014
Completion February 2020
Construction cost £40 million
Architect Atkins
Client Plymouth City Council
Landscape architect Atkins
Structural engineering Atkins
Conservation surveyor Faithful+Gould
Cost consultancy Faithful+Gould
Access consultant Faithful+Gould
Project manager Ward Williams
Clerk of works Gage Tupper
Main contractor Willmott Dixon
MEP contractor T Clarke


Readers' comments (2)

  • Plenty of images, but oh for a site / location plan, given the significance of this development for the city's centre.

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  • Oh dear did Plymouth really deserve this?

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