Often the past is preserved but not necessarily made part of our future. We asked ourselves at the beginning of this project – how can Blackfriars Priory be rediscovered so that it becomes a relevant and vibrant place in Gloucester today? The Priory had lain dormant for almost 70 years with only occasional public access and little use. The brief was to transform the North and East Range of Blackfriars Priory into a flexible multi-function venue to allow the Priory to be used by the local community and businesses.
In order to resuscitate the Priory and secure its future use for the people of Gloucester the installation of mechanical and electrical services and improved accessibility were required, concepts which are alien to a building of this nature. Our response was to sensitively and respectfully place contemporary interventions within the Priory. This allows the modern work to be read as another layer without affecting the complex tapestry of the historic fabric.
Blackfriars Priory is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed dating from the early 13th Century. It is considered to be the most complete Dominican Priory complex in England and is of national architectural significance. The project was carefully scrutinized by the planning authority and the Monument Inspector throughout the process because of the nature of the historic building fabric and its archaeology that dates back to Roman times. The proposals needed to take these aspects into consideration at all times whilst English Heritage, as client, insisted on the works being an exemplar of conservation-led regeneration.
Four materials were used throughout the project to represent our interventions – Concrete, Oak, Glass and Steel. All oak was sourced from sustainable European sources. Our concrete mix included 60% GGBFS cement replacement in order to save over 40% in CO2 emissions and 30% in energy. The mix was also devised, using local sand, to give a color which toned well with the local stone.
The project improves accessibility throughout the Priory, providing a new platform lift and steps within the North Range as well as external ramps to enable universal access to both levels of the historic church. A new external door and stair increase the safe capacity of the building to 150. A further phase of the project, currently under construction by a separate contractor, will provide accessible access to the East Range whilst also providing permanent toilets and an additional commercial unit.