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FIRST LOOK

Curl la Tourelle Head’s refurb adds a new layer to Whitehall Historic House

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The much-loved but neglected building and the museum it houses have been given a new lease of life

Whitehall Historic House (formerly known as Whitehall Museum) is a £1.1 million Heritage Lottery funded project in the London Borough of Sutton. Originally conceived as a repair, access improvement and museum interpretation project, the brief evolved into a substantial reconfiguration and restoration project.

Curl la Tourelle Head’s brief was to facilitate access and attract more visitors to this small, local museum, which – although being a much-loved local landmark – was struggling to attract visitors.

01. Front view from Malden Rd

Whitehall Museum by Curl la Tourelle Head

957 100 Existing Site Plan

Whitehall Museum by Curl la Tourelle Head

Source: Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture

Site plan

The original manor house was built in the 1500s, and its original Tudor structure has been altered and extended over time, with additions from Stuart, Elizabethan and Victorian eras. This layering has created the opportunity to observe construction techniques and domestic settings from various periods in one building. But up to now it was one that was available only to a limited number of people to see, due to the building’s inaccessible configuration and the use of much of the interior for non-display purposes, such as storage and a disused flat.

Looking to continue this history, Curl La Tourelle Head considered its new insertions to the building as a 21st-century layer, while also reconfiguring the existing spaces to make the most of the story that they tell.

09. New Gradiented Access

Whitehall Museum by Curl la Tourelle Head

Source: Killian O’Sullivan

Now, around 70 per cent of the museum’s interior and its landscaped garden is accessible to wheelchair users. Working with the client and the volunteers who run the building, a series of gallery, café and exhibition spaces were designed, supplemented by two extensions which house a museum shop, lift and accessible bathrooms.

Simple geometries and a single cladding material of black charred timber mark the additions out from the main museum, and a new decked area from the café affords visitors greater access to and visibility of the landscaped garden, including its restored 14th-century well.

957 507 Proposed Sections EE and FF

Whitehall Museum by Curl la Tourelle Head

Source: Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture

Sections EE and FF

Architect’s view

Our client, Sutton Council, had asked for a design ‘preserve and enhance Whitehall’, ensuring the building is “in good condition and has a sound management and business plan”. In response to this, two key ideas were formed; Functionality and Visibility. The building’s visual presence in the community is paramount, acting as emblem and cultural centre of the village. This project has certainly resulted in greatly improved functionality, but an additional benefit has been to the museum’s visual presence as an emblematic, cultural centre to Cheam village, acquiring a new relevance in its setting.

The visitors’ experience has been transformed with two new black larch-clad extensions. To the south, a single-storey structure with new access point, large window, and accessible toilets provides a dedicated space for temporary exhibitions and events. A raised floor provides disabled access and a new skylight floods the space with plenty of natural north light. A large ‘shop window’ offers an enticing view of the museum’s offer to passers-by, and welcomes visitors in. A second extension is a two-storey lift and stair tower providing, for the first time, disabled access to the first floor. The new stairs also safely facilitate the client’s expectations of increased footfall, from 7,000 to 20,000 a year.

The historic fabric did not lend itself to wholesale environmental improvements. However, sensitive alterations have been made to building services where we could demonstrate significant benefit in use. For example, switching to LED lighting has reduced yearly carbon emissions from five tonnes to less than one tonne, with a goal of reducing this even further thanks to retroactive additions like removable secondary glazing, new electric heater panels, and a central control system.

Project data

Completion January 2018
Construction cost £1,132,000
Architect Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture
Conservation architect Burrell Foley Fischer
Client London Borough of Sutton, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund
Structural engineer Elliot Wood Partnership
M&E consultant Method Consulting
CDM coordinator Duncan Boddy PFB Construction Management Services
Main contractor R Durtnell & Sons
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions 1 tonne (reduction from 5 tonnes)

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