Dec 07, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Rethinking history

Published in Upfront
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Herefordshire’s new Archive and Record Centre (HARC) is the first archive facility in the UK to be designed and constructed to the Passivhaus standard, as well as the first built to the new guidance for the storage and exhibition of archival materials, PD5454, as released by the UK Government in March 2012.


Planning was sought to re-house Herefordshire’s extensive archive collection after current facilities were in need of extensive and costly repairs beyond the economical benefits of the investment. Instead, a new facility with efficient energy performance offered Herefordshire Council a better and safer return on their capital investment. The assessment of the existing accommodation was brought to light in 2011, when the Council embarked on an intensive restoration project where over 100,000 documents were checked, with more than half requiring delicate cleaning, including some treasured items dating as far back as the 12th Century.

Taking the requirements of the brief beyond client expectation, lead architects, Architype designed a dynamic building that offered an innovative, simple solution to the complex nature of archiving. Joining with contractors Kiers Construction, the team set about applying the new PD5454 recommendations in delivering this state-of-the-art modern facility. This new benchmark is a major upgrade on the previously stipulated conditions for archive storage, recognising passive principles and the control of light, air tightness and exchange.

In terms of civic buildings, the finished centre is exemplary. The client has been bold in placing function at the fore, letting the aesthetics be a product of the building’s usability.

Although the first archival facility to be built to Passivhaus in the UK, this rigorous building standard was a standout choice for the Centre, complementing many of the stipulations stated by the new guidelines. Designed for the future, HARC offers long term sustainability, not only with its flexible internal plan, but in the radically reduced operational costs which are estimated at around 80% less then a like for like centre built to UK Building Regulations.

Optimised for purpose

Passivhaus has given control of the environment back to users; the airtight building is a thermally isolated and environmentally controlled internal space that has been tuned and optimised for the specific purpose of archiving, achieved through high levels of insulation and airtight seals that protect the interior from outside variables.

Additionally, in the public and professional zones of the building, the standard has allowed for high internal air quality, offering a number of comfort and health benefits. Here polluted air from human consumption is exchanged for clean, temperature controlled fresh air that is free of moisture and bacteria. Naturally occurring heat from people and equipment is recovered and used in maintaining a constant internal temperature, regardless of the temperature outside. The need for artificial heat and light is minimised and users benefit enormously from ideal conditions for focused work or study, as well as significant health benefits.

The building is split into two distinct masses; the set back repository, a monolithic concrete building, connected via a multiuse buffer-zone to the administrative and services environment, a timber frame airtight structure.

The architectural language

A preferred construction method for Architype, the front-facing, three-storey timber frame structure and glulams, sets the natural material precedent for this light and airy space, which houses offices, education suites, restoration labs and research rooms, offering an honest and simple aesthetic.

The ‘buffer zone’ joining the two buildings has been articulated into a striking entrance foyer and reception, offering views up and through the building. Flooded by light from the dramatic skylights, this impressive welcome area/exhibition space is a leading and memorable threshold to this dynamic facility.

The connected unperforated concrete box-form serves the bold windowless repository, housing over 7800 collections and approximately two miles of integral shelving over three colour-coded floors. The spectacular external facade is amass with vertical cedar shingle cladding, softening the opposing edges of this dominant form with all natural texture and pattern. Silvering over time, this attractive material choice is a contemporary addition to Herefordshire’s rich timber clad vernacular, reconnecting the industrial Rotherwas suburb with the surrounding countryside.

As the gateway building to the Hereford Enterprise Zone, it was important that the proposal was worthy of its prominent corner location, impressing on the busy adjacent road and inspiring a standard and material influence for future expansion of the zone.

The simple forms of the building are the perfect showcase for the carefully selected material palette, specified for quality, environmental impact and relationship with the surrounding landscape. Timber, lime render and aluminium sheet make for a fresh, clean and modest aesthetic, reflecting the designer’s and client’s key aspirations to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere with an air of frugal quality without ostentation. Completed in a choice of low-maintenance ecological finishes, the outcome is a healthy toxin-free, low-carbon environment that complements the wider design concept.

Rethinking secure environments

Achieving a warm and welcoming presence to users was coupled with the need to provide an extra secure environment for the county’s priceless archive collection. Architype teamed up with landscape architects, Churchman’s Landscape Architects to develop a design that utilises the immediate landscape as a natural security measure.

Each aspect of the building has been made visible for the natural surveillance of the surrounding access roads. Strategically places swales, primarily serving as a water drainage system edge the front facing building, isolating its potential entrance points during out of hours. These simple but effective solutions enable the building to remain approachable as a gateway building to the public, whist protecting the valuable collection within.

Inclusive design

The new centre unites for the first time the council archive service; county archaeology service, historic environment record, and the biological records centre within one building for easy and efficient access. Offering a range of social and community outreach programmes, a dedicated educational room, public research room and improved public facilities; the building has been designed not only for the specific purpose of archiving, but as a central and inclusive service for the county, for a range of local needs.

Architype’s unique solutions and inclusive design of HARC hopes to set a precedent for archive facilities in the UK, preserving our histories for future generations and promoting investigation and research that can be easily accessed in a comfortable, secure environment. As well as influencing the niche archive sector, the high levels of quality and sustainable, flexible design seek to inspire the future of civic buildings in the main, rethinking the needs of current and prospective users.

As Architype’s fifth major Passivhaus build, HARC is born from an ever-developing Passivhaus understanding by the practice, benefitting from the lessons learned in their celebrated educational portfolio. Continuous research initiatives and an intensive focus on improving energy efficiency whilst refining their eloquent architectural language, Architype is now diversifying their Passivhaus portfolio on a number of public and private sector projects of substantial scale.

HARC has been a stand-out success in the application of Passivhaus in a unique and very specific building use, proving the standard as the ideal solution for a far-reaching range of purposes.

From a Passivhaus church and eagerly anticipated affordable housing development, to the University of East Anglia’s Enterprise Centre, the varied and continuing line of work is a testament to the practices reinforced and the UK’s growing belief in the standard, attracting supportive and enthused clients from across the board.

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