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Napier Clarke bags planning consent for Black Country visitor centre

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Napier Clarke Architects has been granted planning permission for its contest-winning £5.8 million visitor and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) in Dudley

The landmark scheme was approved by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council last month almost two years after the Marlow-based practice was selected ahead of an undisclosed shortlist of rival firms to land the estimated £476,000 contract.

The project will deliver a new 1,500m² visitor centre capable of hosting up to 5,000 visitors a day in July 2017. The museum’s existing entrance building on Rolfe Street will meanwhile be converted into a 1,900m² learning centre.

The commission is part of the wider £21.7 million BCLM: Forging Ahead project, planned to complete in 2022, which will expand the open-air heritage museum and increase its total annual number of visitors to 500,000.

BCLM focuses on local social and industrial history from 1850 to 1950, and features about 50 reconstructed buildings, such as houses and shops, along with 100 heritage items, including trams, trains and buses. A new area covering the period up to the 1960s will be delivered as part of the Forging Ahead project.

The 10.5ha complex, which opened in 1978, occupies the site of a former canal basin and goods yard at the heart of the Black Country conurbation, and a short distance from the ruins of Dudley Castle.

The visitor centre will include a ticketing hall, exhibition space, café, shop, offices, storage area and toilets. The learning centre will meanwhile feature a large classroom for science, engineering, technology, arts and maths lessons; a history room; flexible dining hall and coffee bar for teachers.

New external signage, access routes, lighting and security facilities will also be required. Birmingham-based practice Gould Singleton Architects previously developed plans for the new visitor centre and learning centre up to RIBA Stage 2.

A total of 24 architects entered the design competition. Alongside Napier Clarke Architects, the winning team features services engineer BWB Consulting, structural engineer Donald McIntyre Design, and landscape architect Red Kite Network.

The project is expected to start on site in September 2019 and complete in December 2020.

Architect’s view

Napier Clarke Architects' contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Napier Clarke Architects’ contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Napier Clarke Architects’ contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Conceived as a contemporary reflection of the existing museum buildings and heritage of the Black Country, the centre draws upon the architecture and materials of the existing buildings for inspiration. The proposal seeks to create a series of three contemporary vernacular buildings, with the central one being the exhibition and ticket hall, off which the café is to the West and the shop to the East.

The majority of facilities are at ground level with plant and store rooms at lower ground level for ease of access from the adjacent road. The buildings will splay in the direction of the BCLM, creating a fan like structure that diminishes in size towards the Rolfe Street Centre, keeping the structure modest in scale.

The buildings, which are elevated on the hill to make the most of the views towards the BCLM, will sit on a plinth of traditional Staffordshire red brick. Metal cladding to the façade takes reference from the metal panels used on the existing cottages on site. The roof, which will be made from black standing-seam zinc, is created by a series of folding planes which are supported by a steel diagrid structure.

The existing Rolfe Street Entrance Building, which is situated next to the proposed visitors centre, will be re-purposed into a dedicated learning centre to deliver inspirational learning activities to the 90,000 school children that visit each year. Used for both formal and informal learning, the learning centre will also provide conference facilities, an area for lunch and a dedicated entrance for staff and children’s parties.

Versatile workshop spaces will be created that can be used for a variety of creative hands-on learning activities, primarily for school groups, but also for family and adult learning sessions. The renovation of the existing building is mindful of the existing architecture and strives to enhance it – existing suspended ceilings are to be removed to reveal soffits and exposed brickwork will add texture and use a material that is widespread within the Museum site.

Napier Clarke Architects' contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Napier Clarke Architects’ contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

Napier Clarke Architects’ contest-winning £5.8 million visitor centre and learning centre at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley

The new Black Country Living Museum Visitor Centre has been designed to maximise sustainability issues. Throughout the design process the orientation, building fabric and services design have been maximised to create a building that has a low energy demand

The new Visitor Centre benefits from having a north-south orientation with glazed gable ends. These large areas of glazing along with the addition of rooflights maximises daylight penetration. To prevent risks of overheating in the summer the glass has a high specification to reduce the solar gain without impacting on the amount of daylight that is able to pass through. In addition to the glazing selection a brise-soleil has been introduced to the south elevation, reducing the penetrating rays of the sun into the space.

One major challenge faced in the design was the lack of gas available on site. An all-electric building was required which added greater impetus to ensure the design focused on a fabric first approach rather than reliance on installed engineering services.

This led the building to being primarily naturally ventilated. The natural ventilation system is achieved through a combination of high level opening windows and ventilation cores at the centre of the building. These will be fully automatic and are designed to meet the latest guidance on overheating in naturally ventilated buildings. In the winter months the building will be heated via air source heat pumps, a renewable energy, serving underfloor heating circuits throughout the building.

Another key energy use that is important to consider in a building of this size is the lighting. With this in mind the new Visitor Centre will have LED lighting with long life spans throughout and benefits from a modern controls system that will allow daylight dimming. This ensures that between the light fittings chosen and the controls provided the Visitor Centre will get maximum performance while minimising the energy required.

In addition to all the energy saving measures incorporated throughout the building there is a rainwater harvesting system to reduce the water demand of the building. The rain water is captured from the roof and collected within a rainwater harvesting tank where it is filtered and treated before being used to serve all WC cisterns and urinals.

Lastly Country Living Museum has embraced the impetus for more renewable transport and the new car park will have a number of Electric Vehicle Charging bays as well as cycle parking areas.

Project data

Address Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley
Planning authority Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
Client Black Country Living Museum
Quantity surveyor Rob Kennedy
Architect Napier Clarke Architects
Structural eEngineer Donald McIntyre Design
Services and sustainability consultant BWB consulting
Civil engineer BWB consulting
Lighting consultant BWB consulting
Acoustic consultant BWB consulting
Highways consultant BWB consulting
Landscape architect Red Kite Network
Planning officer Emily Napier
Funding HLF and other funding methods
Tender date Visitor Centre March 2019, Learning Centre September 2019
Start on site Visitor Centre June 2019
Learning centre November 2019
Expected completion date Winter 2020
Total GIA: £1,500m² for the Visitor Centre
Form of contract and/or procurement Visitor Centre - Design and Build, Learning Centre – JCT Traditional
Expected construction cost £5.8 million

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