Wilkinson Eyre Architects has hit on an interesting approach to conservation in its conversion of the Templeborough steelworks in Rotherham into Magna, the UK's 'first science adventure centre'- doing little more than spring cleaning.
'We tried something completely new, 'said director Chris Wilkinson.
'The building remains intact and largely unreconstructed.'Although the centre's themed displays on the subject of the elements are substantial in themselves, they are dwarfed in terms of the building as a whole.At 350m long and 45m high, it is about twice the size of the turbine hall at Tate Modern and considerably rougher at the edges.
The main refurbishment work has consisted of dusting - a considerable undertaking. Repainting was out of the question on financial grounds, as well as being against Wilkinson's own inclinations.'We tried to keep the patina of rust, the scorch marks from the foundry, 'he said.Rusted pinholes in the roof and the cladding have also been retained: 'They provide shafts of light like in a cathedral.'Lifts and stairs have been installed in the old boiler house, avoiding the need for new piling in the decidedly uncertain ground.Structures hang from the existing massive beams.
Once visitors have passed through the introductory exhibit their passage will be entirely on steel walkways, so there was no need to smooth out the floors.Lighting will be deliberately kept low and mysterious with specific exhibits near the walkways highlighted. Lighting designer Speirs & Major is lighting the building almost entirely in red.'They were so tired of using blue lights everywhere, 'said Wilkinson.
Where a section of the building had to be reclad, the architect has used translucent red GRP cladding.By day this brings a red light into the building.
At night the lighting will turn it into a beacon, recalling local memories of the glow of the active steelworks.
Stephen Feber, chief executive of Magna, is confident that when it opens in April it will not repeat the disasters of other local non-attractions, such as the Centre for Popular Music and the Earth Centre.The reasons he cites range from the low ticket prices to 'the clear conceptual structure'.
Much of this will depend on the attractions that designer Event is creating within Wilkinson Eyre's dramatic new zones - the floating balloon of the air zone, the buried earth zone, the sleek waveform of the water zone.But for the architectural visitor, at least, as much of the fascination will be contained in the non-interventionist preservation, reminiscent of the way that redundant plants have been treated by imaginative conservationists in Germany.