Arts & Civic

The Hold, Suffolk Archives

Ipswich, Suffolk

Archives are not familiar or much frequented buildings for most members of the public, and a challenging aspect of the brief was to produce a welcoming building that enables and positively encourages the public to engage with Suffolk’s rich archival heritage in stimulating, inspiring and innovative ways.

This brief requirement, together with the setting of the site between the historic waterfront and town centre, led to the adoption of ‘the arcade’ as an appropriate building typology - an extension of the public realm of streets and passages that thread through the town and an opportunity to lift the humble corridor into a memorable and attractive celebration of route.

By presenting the building as a route, as well as a destination, the public is naturally drawn through and past the facilities the building provides – the arcade or ‘nave’ providing an intuitive wayfinding device that at the same time increases the length of ‘shop window’ available to the curators along which to present a stimulating array of displays and presentations.

From the Fore Street entrance visitors arrive into a light and generous entrance foyer – the setting for the café, the shop, the learning space and the exhibition room before passing between The Search Room – a lofty, toplit ‘library like space’, the raked Auditorium and the seminar rooms before arriving at the New Street entrance via the garden court - a quieter contemplative space and a counterpoint to the activity and bustle of the interior spaces.

Away from the public areas, the private areas of the building contain staff facilities and state of the art facilities for the preservation and recording of current and new archive material.

Longevity, low maintenance and the adjacent proximity of the Conservation Area suggested brick as an appropriate material for the building envelope. Horizontal banding in ‘Suffolk White’ bricks providing the building with a distinct identity, a visual reading of the way the long elevations cut into the four metre fall across the site and a subliminal reference to the shelves and lines of text contained within. The long elevations are further articulated by expressing the different volumes and spaces within and a reversal of the banding around the Auditorium.

The historic waterfront area with its warehouses, maltings and masts has a varied and characteristic skyline, and the Hold signals and establishes its presence by the introduction to the skyline of two distinctive roof forms clad in zinc marking the principal spaces within: The Search Room and the Strong Rooms.

The Strong Rooms have been designed with input from the National Conservation Service and in line with with BS EN 16893 and BS 4971 - best current practice for managing archive and library collections. Environmental conditions within the Strong Rooms are delivered by adopting a passive approach that harks back to the days before air conditioning was developed and when documents tended to be stored in dark, thermally massive spaces that provided relatively stable environmental conditions. This provision is reproduced at The Hold by an airtight ‘box within a box’ configuration with no heat or humidity sources - other than the archivists themselves.

In addition to providing an effective and efficient home for the County Archives, The Hold plays an important role in the ongoing regeneration of the historic waterfront area of the town – healing a hitherto raw and ragged edge to the conservation area and at the same time introducing a new, vibrant and important cultural destination to the town and the county.