One of the greatest challenges to architects working on historic buildings is finding products that will perform the necessary function, without drawing attention to themselves as apparatus for people with disabilities. But new products need not detract from historic buildings, and may enhance them.
If designed well, appropriately and generously, there is no reason to think that necessary adaptations to historic buildings should not become part of the permanent fabric of a building, of benefit to all visitors, and not just those with disabilities.
At Southwark Cathedral and Lambeth Palace, we have tailored standard hydraulic platform lift mechanisms supplied by Hymo and Britannia Lifts with the addition of gates and balustrades of our own design, manufactured and fitted by metal fabricators or joiners.
The manufacturers provided details of the necessary control equipment and push buttons, which have been integrated into our own drawings and into the shop drawings of the subcontractor. In the crypt at Lambeth Palace, the lift was paved with quarry tiles, the gate at the bottom was made from glass, and the gate at the top was detailed to match the balustrade, so the lift makes a minimal impact on the appearance of this wonderful space. The hydraulic motor was located at a distance, to avoid any noise in the chapel itself.
RAMP ACCESS At Eastbury Manor, a 16thcentury house in Barking, east London, a permanent ramp would have been intrusive and have meant altering the historic front doors. So we designed a retractable ramp for the step between the porch and the entrance hall. We worked with Heald Engineering and Security to adapt the 'roadblocker' design to our requirements. The new ramp is hydraulically powered and is made from a 3mm steel tray fixed to the lifting mechanism.
It is inset with York Stone paving to match the surroundings, so in the lowered position the visual impact of the ramp is minimal.
DOOR CONTROLS As part of the refurbishment of Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, we are upgrading historic doors for disabled users and incorporating a number of new electro-mechanical door-opening and closing systems linked to the fire alarm system, as well as retained and overhauled historic floor springs without hold-open devices.
We have used a pneumatic system driven by small air compressors, linked by slender 6mm-diameter flexible tubing to a small control unit concealed in risers adjacent to the doors. In one instance, up to eight pairs of doors are operated from one compressor just 450mm wide, 761mm long and 620mm high. In another situation, the doors have to be opened automatically via surface-mounted overhead units operated by wireless push-buttons for wheelchair users and to permit more able visitors to manually override the auto function and push open the doors. These controls have been supplied by the door automation specialist Woodwood (Door Controls).
THE GRAVEL APPROACH The public approach to historic buildings often poses the problem of equal access along gravel paths. This can be resolved by the use of resinbonded gravel. In the forecourt at Lambeth Palace, relandscaped to allow both vehicle and wheelchair access, resin was laid over a tarmac surface, with a fine rounded pebble aggregate rolled in to simulate the loose appearance of traditional gravel. This was supplied by Prismo. By contrast, when the north and west churchyards around St Albans Cathedral were repaved as part of a scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the district council to improve accessibility of the public areas, Clearmac 'Golden' bonded gravel was selected as the surface for the paths, overlaid on the existing surfaces with new brick edgings. In this case, the resin was mixed with the gravel before laying, as we wanted to avoid a shiny surface from an excess of resin.
Richard Griffiths is founder of Richard Griffiths Architects