SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
One huge task, three heritage architects
The Common Ground in Sacred Space project draws on the expertise of many professionals led by a passionate team from Purcell Architects. Jane Kennedy, Matthew Northover and Jo Bartle talk about their individual roles and love of ancient architecture in conversation with our Project Manager, Lindy Gilliland.
Jane Kennedy, Cathedral Architect
What does the role of Cathedral Architect in Newcastle entail and how long have you held the position?
Jane: I was appointed in 2006. The role is established in law under the Care of Cathedrals Measure, each cathedral must appoint an architect to carry out a quinquennial survey and give advice on all repairs, refurbishment, new furnishings, building extensions etc. It involves regular meetings with cathedral staff and clergy, attendance at Chapter at least once a year and attendance at the Fabric Advisory Committee. Obviously there has been lots more work involved in drawing up the Common Ground in Sacred Space plans and seeing them through to completion!
I imagine you get attached to a historic building, the more you research and find out about it. What is special about Newcastle Cathedral to you?
Jane: Yes, you do get attached and of course discover more and more over the years, but I can remember my early visits: what is special for me about the Cathedral is, of course, the Spire, which I first climbed on a visit led by a previous architect, Ron Sims, and its setting in the dramatic topography of the heart of the city.
A number of architects have influenced the design of our cathedral. Who is particularly noteworthy and for what reason?
Jane: We don’t know the medieval architects but the Nave with its simple arcades is very special. Gilbert Scott undertook significant reordering and strengthening and R.L. Johnson’s work to form the Quire, once St Nicholas’ became a cathedral, is stunning. And while I admire Gibbs’ Thomlinson Library addition, I am amused by the way it makes no concession to the medieval building and cuts through one of the South Quire Aisle windows. I don’t think we would get permission to build like that now!
You hold the role of Cathedral Architect at another key point of the Cathedral’s history. What was your overall vision for the remodelling?
Jane: I was appointed after the sad and untimely death of Thomas Hornsby. Tom was architect for only five years but worked on a vision to develop the Cathedral with a building on the North Side to provide community facilities and was instrumental in setting the Heart of the City Group to work with interested parties to ensure a joined up approach with the Castle. I took on that vision and worked on developments and ideas which have been carried out in phases; the creation of the education suite in the Cathedral Hall and other upgrading there, as we worked on ideas for the major scheme which became Common Ground in Sacred Space, and on the third time of asking, won Lottery funding. It has been a long haul!
How did your design of the new nave floor evolve and does it have any historic references?
Jane: The design responded to the Chapter brief to make an open and flexible worship space, which would also accommodate a range of cultural and commercial events. So the floor is simply divided up by bands of different coloured stone which reflect the principal divisions of the building, with a more elaborate patterning around the font, which will be the only fixed object in the refurbished building. And from the start I was excited by the ideas of the Cathedral Archaeologist, David Heslop, and his pioneering work on the ledgers and their distribution according to the social significance of those buried here. Relaying stones near to where people were originally buried was a respectful response and key to the layout.
What are your key concerns as Design Team Lead?
Jane: Well, they have probably changed a lot because of COVID-19 and delays and rising costs remain a worry. I am always concerned for the safety of a building during construction work and protecting the monuments and organ is critical, as well as ensuring that fire and security alarms remain in place throughout. The choice of materials and quality of workmanship are key to the success and that is something we have to monitor, but we have an excellent contractor in HPR who is working hard to ensure the Cathedral gets the best service and outcomes.
Something else you’d like to say?
Jane: Throughout my time as Cathedral Architect I have enjoyed working here because of the people. The Chapter, and Deans Dalliston and Miller have both been imaginative, supportive and encouraging and have created teams with whom working is both fun and of course challenging! There will be many people to list and thank at the end of the project, not least Kate Sussams, Lindy Gilliland and my own team at Purcell.
Video Interview with Matthew Northover, Project Architect
Lindy Gilliland catches up with Matthew during a site inspection. Watch our video below:
Jo Bartle, Project Contract Administrator
Why were you drawn to architectural practice as a profession? What’s your favourite part of the job?
Jo: When I was a child we used to go to France camping over the summer holidays and I was always drawn to the country’s beautiful old buildings. The decayed elegance of these buildings really ignited a passion for architecture and desire to rescue old buildings! I love that as an architect we leave a physical lasting memory for future generations. Growing up in York meant I was surrounded by stunning old buildings, but it wasn’t until I did work experience with a friend’s father that I decided I wanted to become an architect. I spent two weeks shadowing him and spent a good part of that time going out for lunch with his clients and pitching to potential clients!
In your project role as both Architect and Contract Administrator, what does this involve on a daily basis at Newcastle Cathedral?
Jo: Lots of problem solving! When a project is on site you never really know what might happen in a day. We catch up on a daily basis to discuss technical and design aspects of the project. At the moment, our time is spent resolving queries from site and liaising with the rest of the Design Team for information to pass to the contractor. As Contract Administrator I have to issue instructions to the contractor, so they know what they are supposed to be building. I also issue certificates to validate payment to the contractor for work done in the past month. I also speak to the HPR team several times a week.
What’s your favourite feature of Newcastle Cathedral and why?
Jo: I absolutely love the Danish Memorial window tucked away in the North Quire Aisle. The window was installed in 1932 which means it is relatively modern in the context of the Cathedral. I love the simplicity of the design and the array of colours which get the wonderful north light. The ledger stones are also very special. They are beautiful in their own right and the hidden stories and history make them very special. I am delighted to be a part of the team helping to reveal them.
What sort of issues does cathedral architecture throw up for the architect when the contractor gets on site?
Jo: There are plenty! In a cathedral you are dealing with centuries of history, adaption and alteration – this is what makes it so interesting to work on but also does mean there are lots of unknowns! I try to see issues as opportunities. For instance, archaeology – this can impact on programme and slow the process of construction but it is an opportunity to learn more about the historical and social aspects of a building and city. Usually one of the key issues is carrying out construction work in a live cathedral environment. During COVID-19 lockdown this has not been such an issue but as the Cathedral gears up to open its doors again we will be working with the Cathedral team and contractor to make sure there is minimal disruption to the daily worship activities.
Has any aspect of our project been particularly hard to work through?
Jo: Obviously COVID-19 has had an impact on the project. As this was nothing we have ever experienced before it was challenging not being able to apply experience to the situation. The ‘we are in it together’ mentality has enabled us to work collaboratively with the wider project team, at the same time as social distancing of course, to keep the project progressing.
Something else you’d like to say?
Jo: The journey on this project so far has been really enjoyable and that is down to the team work ethos established between client, consultants, specialists, contractor and sub-contractors.