Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communication

Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage

Conserving the original features of a 100-year old building

November 25th, 2015

MA Arts Management and Heritage Studies student, Helen Roddis, takes a look at the efforts to preserve the original features within the 100-year old Agricultural Sciences Building during its renovation.

One of the most interesting but overlooked buildings on the campus of the University of Leeds is undergoing significant restoration.

This building, destined to be the new home of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, was originally designed in 1915 to accommodate Agricultural Sciences.

The historic fabric of a building is important; without it the building loses its character, its personality, and could become faceless. We should therefore value the efforts in the current renovation project to preserve the original features from the Agricultural Sciences Building’s 100-year-old design.

ASB doorwayIt is vital to preserve the historic buildings of the University of Leeds as well as investing in the new. This will enable us in the role of ‘caretakers’ to pass on the architectural and symbolic legacy of the institution to people who will work and study in this place in years to come.

Features being preserved include cornices, doors, stairs, windows and railings. Decorative cornicing had previously been violently sliced into by modern stud walls. These walls not only disfigured the decorative moulding above but also the harmony of the original walls’ clean lines and the layout of the rooms on the intended floor plan. Construction company Sewell undertaking the current restoration project are removing unnecessary stud walls while also revealing original ceiling height and previously hidden cornicing by removing modern lowered ceilings and tangles of pipes and wires. This lets the space breathe and good examples of this can be seen in the corridors.

ASB stairsThe dark glossy wooden handrail and the shiny emerald green tiles of the staircase have been swaddled in foam and shielded by boards of plywood. This is to protect them from the months of equipment and materials being carried up and down. It is as if these features are waiting to be unveiled from their utilitarian chrysalis upon the building’s completion.

A considerable effort has been made to keep the windows in their natural state. This involves avoiding an inappropriate shroud of modern fenestration that, although offering insulation, conceals their aesthetics or hampers their mechanics. White plastic boxing in wires and cables for computers that run along the lengths of rooms are a new feature. Although perhaps unsightly, they are required for a facility that the interior fit-out of the 1920s would never have had to cater for. There are real complexities in making an older building functional for a twenty-first century educational institution without erasing its history.

See here for more articles about the heritage project on the building renovation.

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