The Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral invited six leading architectural practices to submit proposals to their jury, which included Sir Jeremy Dixon, for a new visitor and exhibition facilities on a site adjacent to the Cathedral cloister. The new centre was intended to provide for the exhibition and interpretation of the Magna Carta, one of the four remaining copies of which resides at Salisbury.
The challenge of a new architectural intervention in keeping both with the spirit of the place as well as with the dawning of a new millennium was immense.
The solid perimeter and “empty” centre of the cloister are central to our concept. The new building reverses this solid void relationship and is articulated with transparent and translucent perimeter glass walls to three sides with a stone central core. The roof is solid and appears as a shallow stone umbrella floating above the landscape and the internal space. The junction between cloister and new building is a linear pool of water crossed by a bridge.
The geometry which controls the design of the gothic cathedral also informs both plan and detail of the new facility. The dimension of one side of the square which defines the building perimeter is used as the base number from which all key components are dimensioned using the principle of √2.
The palette of materials is restricted to glass, steel and the two sources of stone – both used in the Cathedral’s construction: Chilmark limestone for walls and vaults, and Purbeck Marble for flooring. The cantilevered steel roof structure is clad in lightweight precast panels made from the crushed Chilmark stone.
The surfaces of the east and west glass walls are printed to reveal a transparent Magna Carta text. The north wall is left clear and faces directly onto the cloister’s south wall and the water. The south wall is solid stone, containing within its thickness exhibition displays and windows into the cathedral’s stone and stained glass maintenance workshops beyond.
The centre acts as a point of arrival for all visitors – a ‘gatehouse’ to the Cathedral. Entrance is through the west wall and the visitor is guided in a counter clockwise direction through exhibition spaces and over the bridge into the cloister and Cathedral beyond. The return route allows for revisiting the exhibitions or alternatively enjoying other visitor facilities.