Transforming and conserving The Piece Hall

Just how do you conserve and transform a beloved Grade I listed 18th Century building for the 21st Century?

by David Gledhill, Senior Site Engineer, Building Services

The challenge ahead of us was unique: to sensitively help conserve and transform a Grade I listed building The Piece Hall, the jewel in Halifax’s civic, commercial and cultural crown into a multi-use destination for local residents and visitors alike.

Image: Mike Cooper

This was engineering at its most demanding – requiring rigour, innovation and thorough understanding of the issues in dealing with listed structures, whilst ensuring the results made everyone happy.  With so many different uses planned, including entertainment spaces, recreation and commercial areas, as well as a huge 66,000ft2 ‘town square’, this new cultural hub has so much to offer the people of Halifax as well as visitors to the city.

About The Piece Hall

Image: Calderdale Council

Described as an “architectural and cultural phenomenon”[1], The Piece Hall dates back to 1779. It was built as a cloth hall, a place where ‘pieces’ of cloth (actually 30-yard lengths of woven woollen fabric produced on handlooms) were traded. The Piece Hall is now the only surviving cloth hall in Britain, as well as being one of the nation’s most outstanding Georgian buildings.  Our own company headquarters are based in the Georgian city of Bath, so I have a deep understanding and love of this period of architecture, with its elegant proportions and nods to the classical styles of ancient Rome and Greece.

Since 2013, thanks to funding from Calderdale Council and the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation, a project has been undertaken to renovate the whole of The Piece Hall, creating a new cultural quarter for Halifax. With a mixture of bars, restaurants, shops, cafes, creative businesses, a gallery, a state-of-the-art heritage centre and the stunning 66,000 square foot open-air piazza hosting live cultural events. And fittingly, one room has been kept as it was originally, to help retain the strongest possible link back to the building’s history.

How we made the vision viable

Buro Happold partnered with LDN Architects and Gillespies on the renovation, first becoming involved in 2013. Gathering together a skilled team[2], we drew on many of our key disciplines for this project, including civil engineering, structural engineering, MEP, fire engineering, lighting design, and transport and mobility.

The uniqueness of the building gave rise to a number of particular challenges: any change to the structure or fabric of a Grade I listed building has first to be approved by various bodies. There was no sign of any structural modifications having been carried out since the building was first constructed more than two centuries ago, except for a handful of urgent and interim repairs to stabilise and ensure the safety of the structure. Another challenge was ensuring English Heritage was happy with all the works as construction progressed, as this was a very sensitive and important site as part of Yorkshire’s rich history.

The challenges were probably greatest for our Structures team, who carried out extensive surveys and excavations, uncovering a variety of problems that needed to be solved. They found, for example, that the foundations needed significant underpinning, and many of the walkways were unsafe. The project involved additional steelwork, structural walls and a great deal of extra support. At one point the project was delayed by the unexpected discovery of a Georgian graveyard and the necessary exhumation of over 200 skeletons. This certainly gave me even more of an insight into how integral the hall had been to the people of Halifax for hundreds of years.

The engineering work on the courtyard was the most transformative for the entire project. Cobbles laid in the 1970’s were removed and the entire square was levelled to create both a more flexible and accessible space. Ground power, Source Heat Pump Bore holes, and data points were installed to ensure a wide variety of events, such as markets, concerts and a seasonal ice rink could be hosted in this stunning historical setting. The lighting designed by our experts is critical in helping to showcase the beauty of the surroundings as well as enhancing event experiences regardless of the time of day.

Image: Mike Cooper

It was also extraordinarily important to make sure The Piece Hall was accessible as possible, which is often challenging with historical buildings. A number of lifts were installed to provide entry at all levels, and the extensive reworking of the courtyard has meant accessibility for people with a variety of mobility needs.

I am extremely proud to have been part of the team entrusted with rescuing and repurposing this historic site. All of us at Buro Happold feel honoured to have been able to have used our skills that will enable this iconic building to continue to play a central role in the future of Halifax.

The Piece Hall opened on the 1st August 2017. If you’re in the area why not visit and see our work first hand! For more information view our project page or visit http://www.thepiecehall.co.uk/

References:
[1] http://www.thepiecehall.co.uk/heritage
[2] The team also included Gillespies Architects (landscape architecture), Grahams (construction), Stothers (MEP contractor).

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