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The Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

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A new gallery building in Nottinghamshire provides an elegant and enduring home for the 5,000 items in the Portland Collection, says Cathy Slessor

BRIEF • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • CLIENT’S VIEW • ENGINEER’S VIEW • EXHIBITION DESIGNER’S VIEW • PROJECT DATA • ENVIRONMENTAL DATA • COST DATA • PLANS • SECTION • DETAIL

The most compelling exhibit in the Portland Collection – an array of ducal art treasures housed in a new gallery by Hugh Broughton – is not the ‘lost’ Michelangelo drawing or the pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution. Rather, it’s a collection of miniatures, tiny portraits of royalty, aristocracy and family members, often given as gifts or worn as jewellery. Executed in dazzling enamels and still as resplendent as the day they were painted, the 400-strong collection contains works by the most significant miniaturists in England from the Tudor era onwards, including Nicholas Hilliard and Christian Zincke. 

Rendered in microscopic and intimate detail, the faces gaze out across time, some imperiously haughty and crowned by implausibly ornate wigs, others more au natural. Among them are assorted dukes of Portland, men of evident wealth and taste, whose magpie-like eye for collecting and accumulating over 400 years coalesced into one of the most historically significant private collections of fine and decorative arts. Held at the country seat of Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, the collection of 5,000 objects now has a custom-designed home in the Harley Gallery, which forms a new set piece within an ensemble of existing estate buildings. The idea of constructing a permanent, free, public gallery came from William Parente, a descendent of the family and current chatelain of Welbeck. 

It was important to convey a sense of solidity and longevity

Hugh Broughton, who prevailed in an invited competition for the £3 million commission, is best known for the Halley VI Research Station in Antarctica, a laboratory at the end of the world created for the intrepid geographers and geologists of the British Antarctic Survey. Yet though the inhospitable terrain of Antarctica and the bucolic acreage of Welbeck could not be more further removed from each other, Broughton is at ease in both milieux, with an eye for architecture that responds precisely, thoughtfully and inventively to purpose and surroundings. 

Typical of the complex social conduits of English aristocracy, the dynastic history of Welbeck is populated with fascinating and eccentric dramatis personae. It begins in the Elizabethan era with Bess of Hardwick, the cultured and influential countess of Shrewsbury, whose second marriage – to William Cavendish in 1547 – sired the ducal line of Devonshire as well as Portland. But perhaps the most fascinating and eccentric persona was the fifth duke of Portland who occupied Welbeck in the 19th century. Known as the ‘burrowing duke’, he created a subterranean netherworld under the estate, including a ballroom and billiard room, linked by a network of tunnels. 

Ostensibly this mole-like mania was in response to Welbeck’s topography but it was also so the duke could move around his vast holdings unobserved, such was the unfathomable extremity of his reclusiveness (it was rumoured he suffered from psoriasis). Unusually, he did not commission any portraits of himself – unlike his predecessors, whose likenesses form one of the collection’s dominant themes. 

A container of pale Danish brick choreographs a tactful and legible rapport between old and new elements

A keen admirer of horseflesh, one of the duke’s more conventional constructions was the so-called Tan Gallop, an indoor equine training arena, a quarter of a mile long, enclosed by walls of buff limestone and a roof of iron and glass. He also built an enormous riding school, second only in size to one designed for Tsar Alexander I in Moscow in 1817. 

The remnants of the Tan Gallop form an armature and anchoring point for the new gallery. A container of pale Danish brick is slotted in between the Gallop’s weathered limestone walls, choreographing a tactful and legible rapport between old and new elements. The long, thin bricks are handmade, with nuanced variations in texture and tone. Barrel-vaulted rooflights clad in seamed zinc rise up like questing periscopes above the line of the existing walls, while a brick and glass entrance pavilion extends a Miesian hand to greet visitors. 

Uncluttered and unencumbered by the distracting paraphernalia of a gift shop, this volume acts as a tranquil zone of orientation and decompression before visitors enter the inner sanctum of the exhibition spaces. The threshold between pavilion and gallery is marked by a glazed slot cut in the roof. ‘You’re aware that you’re within an existing structure,’ says Broughton. ‘It’s almost like archaeology.’ 

Gallery spaces respond to the different scales of the collection, from heroic portraiture to books, jewellery and miniatures. The Long Gallery is an axial volume lined with large oil paintings, evoking the aura of a grand arcade in a country house decorated with imposing ancestor portraits and elaborate still lives. The vaulted form alludes to the great museums of Soane and Kahn, and the sinuously sculpted geometry of the cycloidal ceiling gently diffuses light evenly down the walls. The difference in the curvature of the ceiling and roof creates a service zone for air conditioning units. 

The Treasury Gallery, by contrast, is more intimately scaled and illuminated, a low-lit labyrinth populated with cabinets of precious objects, conjuring an atmosphere of semi-religious contemplation. Exhibits sparkle in the gloom, including the famous Portland tiara, designed by Cartier for Winifred, wife of the sixth duke for the coronation of Edward VII. A caption dryly records that ‘it bears no sign of the damage inflicted by the duke when he accidentally sat on the tiara before a party’. Curated from the collection by artist Peter Blake, the display of tightly packed miniatures occupies a triptych of cabinets, with large magnifying glasses to enhance viewing. 

The aim is to change displays at intervals, so the entire collection is eventually shown over time. The role of architecture is clearly to provide an elegant and enduring container, rather than a distracting bauble likely to date quickly. In this Broughton has undoubtedly succeeded with a building that is sober but not arid (the glacially super-white lavatories off a mirrored corridor provide a gently subversive counterpoint to the good manners elsewhere on display), reflecting an obvious reciprocity between the ambitions of patron and architect. ‘It was important to convey a sense of solidity and longevity,’ says Broughton. ‘This is just the latest piece in a historic continuum.’ 

Basement plan

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Ground floor plan

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Section A-A

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Detail

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

The first gallery that visitors enter is 22m long and appears to be cut in half by a full length translucent rooflight, filling the space with diffuse light and creating the perfect environment to display oil portraits. 

The external barrel vault is clad in pre-weathered zinc jointed with traditional batten rolls, selected to suit the intended monumentality of the design. The inner pane of the rooflight is laminated with a white translucent interlayer to prevent direct sunlight falling on to paintings and to minimize visual distraction in the gallery. The panes of glass are 3.6m long and span between triangular structural beams, designed to appear very thin when viewed from below. 

The gallery has a steel frame with an outer skin of handmade Danish bricks, selected for their elegant horizontal proportion and subtly varied colour. Sample panels were laid to test the bond and to ensure that the bricks would compliment the historic limestone walls. 

The ceiling has a cycloidal geometry, which allows a gentle distribution of natural light to fall down onto the gallery walls. Fibrous plaster was specified to ensure a perfect finish. The difference in curvature between the ceiling and the roof provides a zone for air extract ductwork. The vertical face of the ‘chimney’ leading up to the rooflight is finished with smooth acoustic plaster to reduce reverberation. 

The suspended lighting bar was developed with Speirs and Major and provides both uplighting and spot lighting to illuminate paintings. The suspension rods pass through small metal cylinders cast into the cycloiodal ceiling and are fixed back to the primary structure. 

Hugh Broughton, Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Brief

The new gallery provides a home for the Portland Collection, one of the finest accumulations of paintings, sculpture, books, tapestries and furniture in private hands in the UK. The gallery is located within the historic walls of a former racehorse training Gallop.

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Architect’s view

The Portland Collection was assembled by the Cavendish-Bentinck family, which has lived at Welbeck Abbey for more than 400 years. Our practice was selected to design a new gallery to display the collection following a design competition organised by Malcolm Reading. The brief called for a building that ‘would complement the work of the neighbouring Harley Gallery and the historic interiors in the state rooms of the main house’.

The design process involved regular and very enjoyable discussions about architecture and the visitor experience with our client, William Parente, and the director of the Harley Gallery, Lisa Gee. From the outset, the scheme was also supported by Bassetlaw District Council because it made good use of redundant land and provided a positive attraction for visitors.

Although value engineering took place, this focused on scope rather than quality, which was rigorously protected by the client. We were also fortunate that the contractor rose enthusiastically to the challenges posed by the high level of detail and coordination inherent in the delivery of a project of this nature. Although the scheme did include contemporary products and techniques, we all most enjoyed the experience of working innovatively with traditional materials such as handmade brick, zinc roofs, fibrous plaster and basket-weave timber block floors.

This was a rare and privileged commission, and has already helped us to win exciting new work, including improvements to the visitor experience at both Clifford’s Tower in York for English Heritage and the peerless Painted Hall for the Greenwich Foundation.

Hugh Broughton, Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Client’s view

We appointed Hugh Broughton Architects from a shortlist of six, despite not wanting any of Hugh’s original building design ideas! There was something about his presentation, and the following Q&A, that made us feel he would listen to our hopes and aspirations, and realise them in a way we hadn’t necessarily thought about.

The project was straightforward: the building has to display a finite number of works of art over three exhibition periods. We wanted a building, which would hold its own among the historic buildings already on the estate, and would have longevity. It was great to develop a working relationship with Hugh and exhibition designer John Ronayne. We spent time visiting exhibitions and buildings; one day at the Windmill Hill Archive at Waddesdon Manor; one day in Lens at the new Louvre; then separate visits to the Rijksmuseum to look at its revitalised displays. These visits helped coalesce our thinking, bringing together the contemporary minimalism that Hugh instinctively enjoys, a richly layered historic country house interior where our exhibits were traditionally housed, and John Ronayne’s contemporary museum design, where strong colours help objects communicate to visitors.

The finished building and its displays draw on all of our ideas and inspirations. Architectural concerns, curatorial ideas and historic interiors all play their part in giving the new gallery its unique atmosphere. The lovely handmade bricks for the entrance pavilion, and beautiful attention to detail in all of the finishes, hark back to the Harley Foundation’s commitment to craftsmanship and the mark of the hand. 

Lisa Gee, director of The Harley Gallery

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Engineer’s view

The gallery’s rural location means there are no gas utility networks in the vicinity so electrically driven plant is required. Heating and cooling is derived entirely from high-efficiency air-sourced heat pumps. This means there are no pollutants emitted locally from the heating and cooling system on site, as there are no boiler flues. Compared to a conventional electric cooling and gas heating system, this arrangement is predicted to save more than 18,500kWh of energy and offset more than 4,850kg of CO2 per year.

A 60kWp Solar photovoltaic array is connected to the gallery, estimated to produce around 36,000kWh of renewable energy annually.

Internal design conditions meet the requirements for lending with national museums, increasing the longevity of artefacts on display. Measures include full humidity control on the air systems, and temperature controlled to a narrow band. A low-velocity displacement ventilation system is integrated into the floor structure to deliver air evenly and quietly to the gallery spaces. Air is extracted at high level and any excess heat is recovered. While being conditioned to a high level, the building still achieves an A-rated energy performance certificate and is predicted to emit only 5.04kg of CO2/m² per annum.

The north lights were designed to ensure minimal direct solar gain into the gallery. This was assessed by 3D modelling in IES Virtual Environment. The size and orientation of the glazing, and the external louvres was influenced by the output from this modelling. The modelling also determined which areas of display space received direct sunlight, to ensure that any artefacts sensitive to this were not positioned in these locations.

Phil Brown, AECOM

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Exhibition designer’s view

The design of the new galleries creates a progression of space from grand and open, to detailed and concentrated. The Long Gallery is monumental, with a broad daylit ambience, appropriate for full-length paintings. At the far end we introduced a massed display of glittering plate to draw the visitor forward. 

In the adjacent gallery, the experience is deliberately different. While at each end its 4.2m height was retained to allow for medium-size art to be hung, the insertion of a ceiling raft (3m high) halfway through allows smaller items to be showcased. 

Within the lowered area, there is a further intimate enclosure (2.4m high), presenting the important collection of miniature portraits. Here the lighting (necessarily subdued for conservation reasons) is controlled by a sequence of ‘magic eye’ detectors, which gradually brighten the objects as the visitor enters. Together with sloped-glass showcases, an elbow-leaning rail and even magnifying glasses, this gives an almost private sense of contact with these very personal items. 

Much consideration was given to the colour of the collection’s setting. Plain white is frequently used for modern galleries – and it has been retained for the preliminary reception spaces. But white can swamp historic artworks, tending to fill the viewer’s peripheral vision with its brightness. Mid tones are more flattering to the works; even strong or deep colours can boost their effectiveness. The display walls run from mid grey to a deep red. This scheme is supplemented inside individual showcases with green, red and a rich blue; a range of backing shades that variously help to promote and offset the objects placed within. 

John Ronayne, Ronayne Design

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Project data

Start on site April 2015
Completion September 2016
Gross internal floor area 892m2
Form of contract JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2011
Construction cost £4,730,000 (includes courtyard landscaping and some works to Harley Gallery)
Construction cost per m2 £5,303/m2
Architect Hugh Broughton Architects
Client The Harley Foundation
Client representative Malcolm Reading Consultants
Exhibition designer Ronayne Design
Structural engineer Price and Myers
MEP consultant AECOM
QS Ridge
Lighting consulltant Speirs and Major
Acoustic consultant Ramboll
Landscape architect Dominic Cole Landscape Architects
CDM coordinator AECOM
Approved building inspector Turton Building Control
Main contractor Caddick Construction
CAD software used Vectorworks Architect 2013

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Environmental data

On-site energy generation 30 per cent
Annual mains water consumption 2.2m³/person/year
Airtightness at 50Pa 2.2m³/hour/m²
Heating and hot water load 3.58kwh/m²/yr
Overall area-weighted u-value 0.3W/m2K
Annual CO2 emissions 5.04kg/m2

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Harley Gallery by Hugh Broughton Architects

Source: Hufton and Crow

Cost data

 COST PER M² (£)PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL
SUBSTRUCTURE £306.81 5.79%
   
SUPERSTUCTURE  
Frame £164.94 3.11%
Upper floors £14.89 0.28%
Roof £532.24 10.04%
Staircases £17.55 0.33%
External walls £541.33 10.21%
Windows £40.26 0.76%
Internal walls and partitions £146.42 2.76%
Internal doors £73.01 1.38%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL £1,530.64 28.87%
   
INTERNAL FINISHES  
Wall finishes £34.10 0.64%
Floor finishes £163.32 3.08%
Ceiling finishes £285.54 5.38%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL £482.96 9.11%
   
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS  
Furniture £76.52 1.44%
   
SERVICES  
Sanitary appliance £23.39 0.44%
Disposal installations £23.95 0.45%
Water installations £59.93 1.13%
Space heating and air treatment £631.87 11.92%
Electrical services £372.14 7.02%
Protective installations £16.32 0.31%
Communications installation £330.39 6.23%
Builders’ work in connection with services £6.44 0.12%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL £1,464.43 27.62%
   
EXTERNAL WORKS (Includes enabling works) £748.17 14.11%
   
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE £693.16 13.07%
   
TOTAL  £5,302.69 
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