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A new archive building for the island of Jersey has a dignified civic presence and wider green ambitions.

The new archive building in Jersey has been built in the bowl of a quarry on the east slope of a hill above the centre of St Helier. The building is surrounded on three sides by the pink-brown textured walls of old quarry workings, so that the archives are held in a granite embrace.

The building, by the Jersey practice of BDK Architects in association with MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, was designed for the Jersey Heritage Trust which wanted to make the island's history more accessible to the public. Its brief asked for a reading room and associated facilities, and 7 km of environmentally controlled shelving for archives including rare documents, artefacts and photographs. [1] Running costs had to be minimal.

Jersey Archive announces its presence off a narrow one-way street with an elegantly landscaped forecourt, glass entrance box and porte cochere which leads into a courtyard. Landscaping around the shaped building has a solid sculptural quality, in keeping with the beauty of the surrounding rock face visible from all nearly all parts of the Archive. You park your car under a pergola curving around the rock face. Behind you, a sloping lawn filling the angle of the L rises to a smoothly curving concrete bench (in the monolithic context, Richard Powell's relief, meant to evoke historic documents scattered over the concrete, simply looks untidy); another curved seat is set into a rock garden at the back of the building.

The Archive is made up of two main parts connected by stair and lift tower and glazed bridges. The need for security imposed its own restraints, and access to successive zones becomes increasingly restricted as you move towards secure staff rooms and the sealed four storey repository.

Running west-east, the public building begins with the openness of the two-storey reception, glazed on two sides. From it you can reach the education room on the ground floor, or mount the stairs to exhibitions in the first floor gallery. Beyond the gallery, the rectangular reading room is cantilevered over the education space on white precast concrete beams. This side of the building faces due south and, to prevent overheating, daylight is deflected and diffused by various means. Underneath the cantilever, glass panels between the beams form a band of clerestorey glazing admitting daylight to the ground floor. In the green panelled reading room (meant to evoke the traditions of leather bookbinding), daylight is diffused through brise soleil over horizontal window slots, and through a clerestorey shaded by the oversailing roof.

Emphatic articulation by material and form (certainly a familiar part of the MacCormac practice's vocabulary) makes the building immediately legible and comprehensible; held within the rocky bowl, the composition has the balance and authority of an early Modernist painting. The long horizontals of the reading room floating over a stony base are underscored by wooden cladding, the whole counterpoised to the blockiness of the impassive white cubic repository on the one hand, and the transparent entrance box with its flash of scarlet wall on the other. Internally, the same articulation occurs in the design of details and junction. Consideration for energy saving played a large part in design. To support the island's economy and cut down transport costs, the architects have used durable materials found locally wherever possible, and in constructing the building have tried to ensure energy consumption was kept to the minimum.

Working with Arups, the architects devised a passive system of environmental control for the repository (it is said to be one of the largest archive buildings in the world to be so controlled). Constructed of double 440mm concrete block walls separated by ventilated wall cavities, the building's thermal mass is enough to absorb variations in temperature and humidity and create a stable environment. Wrapped in a bitumastic waterproof membrane to prevent moisture escaping, the walls are insulated and protected externally with a silicone rainscreen render. Heat from solar gain in the rendered facade is drawn through the cavities and expelled through a void in the double roof. A sophisticated building management system monitors and responds to changes; when required it activates natural ventilation or low level heating systems. The strategy has apparently saved [pound]300 000 in expenditure on plant and it is predicted that, when compared with the cost of running standard mechanically air-conditioned buildings, this one will save [pouund]43 000 a year. Architecturally speaking, Jersey has had a lean time in recent years. There is scarcely a modern building of any worth and it is heartbreaking to see how much of its fine historic and vernacular architecture has been -- and is still being -- treated (the rash of plastic windows inserted into the magnificent pink granite faces of the island's old houses is a ubiquitous and painful eyesore). But there are hopeful signs that things may be changing -- there is now a new office building in St Helier by Haworth Tompkins -- and Jersey Heritage is to be congratulated on an archive building that is an exemplary new public building, and one that should endure.

(1.) Archival material should be rich in at least one respect, for the situation of the Channel Islands off the coast of Brittany in northern France has ensured their lively military history as one power or another has recognized their strategic advantages -- hence their castles, garrisons and fortifications. The famous Battle of Jersey of 1871, when invading French were bravely repelled by Jersey men, is commemorated in John Singleton Copley's painting The Death of Major Peirson that hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. Wellington insisted on the necessity of reinforcing the Islands' defences, and Hitler was obsessed with their strategic importance. Jersey has been a wealthy island, at least since the nineteenth century, its prosperity founded like that of the Basques on cod fishing.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Great Britain's island of Jersey
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2001

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