Overbury has completed a £780,000 refurbishment at The National Archives in Kew, London to create a vibrant and versatile new public space. The 4,700 sq ft project by Overbury represents the biggest change in the 40-year-old building in a decade.  

The refurbishment project, which started in January, is one of the ways that The National Archives is redefining its public areas and breathing new life into the space. The National Archives is a non-ministerial government department, and is the official archive of the UK government. With over 180 kilometres of shelving, it is also home to some of the nation’s most iconic documents dating back  more than 1,000 years, including the Domesday Book, Shakespeare’s will and tweets from Downing Street.

The refurbishment saw the upgrade of the building’s mechanical, electrical and data infrastructure, as well as the creation of a double-height auditorium and new modern, open plan areas for reading and research.

Transforming any public space in an occupied building with historic gravitas is a big task, says Bob Banister, managing director at Overbury:

 “We’re used to working in sensitive environments, and throughout the years we’ve worked within many listed buildings, however this project posed an entirely unique challenge. Managing the potential risk of water, fire or dust damage and maintaining the integrity of the documents in the building were principle concerns, as was keeping the archives open to the public with as little fuss as possible.”  

Highlights of the project included:

  • 2.5 tonnes of data cable was safely removed and disposed of, supporting the buildings upgrade to fibre optic data connectivity.
  • It took 246 hours to remove 8 tonnes of concrete, which was cut with a hydraulic, high-pressure diamond saw.
  • Building a 250 seat double-height auditorium that The National Archives will be able rent for private lectures and workshops, opening up a new revenue source.
  • Exposing 2,066 sq ft of the original coffered concrete ceiling to highlight its architectural merit.
  • All construction materials used throughout the project had to be non-organic to deter moths.
  • 95% (7 tonnes) of all construction waste was recycled.

Another consideration was making sure that the experience of visitors was not hampered by the refurbishment – a total of 2,700 hours were worked after closing time to ensure minimal disturbance to visitors and staff. In addition, the project team made sure that the reading rooms could be used throughout which meant changing the access routes regularly, and in some weeks daily. Noise, dust and logistics were all carefully managed to ensure that the project wasn’t an inconvenience. 

Bob continues: “Accommodating researchers, students and employees of The National Archives was a cornerstone of the project. We needed to remain as flexible as possible and make sure that the public still had a great experience when visiting the archives. The overall success of the project is a real credit to the entire consultant and subcontractor team and we hope that The National Archives and community will enjoy the space for many years to come.”

This major new space is exciting as it will change the way visitors engage with The National Archives’ collections on site. It allows us to expand our public programme and increase the range, capacity and frequency of public talks, events and other activities. This will in turn allow us to serve a wider audience including more families, students and teachers, community and arts groups as well as national and international researchers.”

Lee Oliver, head of venue management for the National Archives

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