We like a challenge. However the state of No.1 Smithery when we first saw it, unused for twenty-five years, derelict and on the Buildings At Risk register, with gaping cracks and propped facades, dense internal shrubberies and lace-like roof coverings, didn’t remove our excitement at the potential of the building if saved.
A Scheduled Ancient Monument by virtue of its record of industrial metalwork development (in the remains within earth floors and its actual roofs, each different as technology improved), Grade II* listed and at the heart of one of south-east England’s most significant industrial complexes the stakes could hardly have been higher.
We won the commission by putting together a team, including Martin Stancliffe Architects, Price and Myers and Max Fordham, who understood the need to focus on the essential aspects of the brief and work with the nature of its historic fabric. From the outset we also understood the need for complete teamwork with the Trust in its discussions with the numerous stakeholders: the National Museums, the statutory authorities and consultees, and multiple funders, to develop and deliver a highly complex project.
Our ‘box-in-box’ concept underpinned every building strategy and is clearly expressed within the building. This fundamental idea – presented at interview – was to physically separate the new facilities from the historic fabric, thus accommodating the stringent collection requirements, including those of the Government Indemnity Scheme, whilst reducing losses of historic fabric to the absolute minimum.