RIBA West Midlands 2022 Award Winners
The Undercroft Learning Centre, Worcester Cathedral
Acanthus Clews Architects
Dean & Chapter of Worcester Cathedral
Awards won: RIBA West Midlands Regional Award, RIBA West Midlands Conservation Award, RIBA West Midlands Client of the Year Award and RIBA West Midlands Building of the Year Award 2022
Through an exercise in exquisite detailing and light-touch intervention, Acanthus Clews have managed to breathe life into the damp vaults of Worcester Cathedral, causing a stir to passers-by who frequently peer through the crafted windows. The conversion of the former monastic storage rooms into the new Undercroft Learning Centre, truly provides an innovative and versatile venue to learn and discover for the whole community.
Unlocking the project was the identification of one section of later rebuilt Victorian vault within the original medieval structure, where the architect was able to address the complicated access to the vault, allowing it to be opened-up and appreciated by a wide audience. Technical challenges associated with archaeology, environmental conditions in the space and ensuring the former monastic refectory cellar maintained its integrity was a colossal task and one that has been expertly executed.
The normal palette of environmental upgrades and new technologies were not going to be available in such a historically sensitive site, with careful consideration the project still presented an opportunity to dramatically improve the performance of the space, ensuring its fabric is preserved for many more centuries.
Due to the historic sensitivity of the exposed stone finishes of the walls and ceilings the decision was made to avoid as much surface mounting of services as possible. The new floor zone became the main opportunity to distribute services around the new space. The electrics are all completely rewireable in the future due to a system of horizontal ducting and cleverly hidden vertical ducts within door jambs.
The architect has conserved the existing fabric in a sympathetic but honest way using hot mix lime and replaced stone. Within the teaching spaces all dates of the fabric have been retained, accepted and contribute to the wider story of the space.
Creating an environmental and financially sustainable space was paramount to the cathedral. The brief was to create a space that is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable for future generations. This ensures the cathedral is involved in everyday life, retrofitting an existing heritage asset, rather than building a new education building was critical to meeting this vision.
The Learning Centre presents a timeless sense of purpose and custodianship demonstrated by the intelligent use of a forgotten space. All decisions were meticulously thought through with rigour, consistency, purpose and pragmatism that only a building of this vintage can engender.