Design, Build & Construction
The new extension has been discreetly positioned so that it complements and does not compete with the existing medieval building. The plans follow careful analysis of the Clare Priory site as a whole as well as the medieval infirmary and are the result of detailed consultations over the last 14 or 15 years with the local planning authority, English Heritage and other bodies.
The existing church, scheduled as an ancient monument, is lovely, venerable, but long, tall and narrow. It is too small to accommodate the needs of its congregation and the wrong shape for the modern liturgy. Any changes to the present church have to consider a range of interests: the Augustinian Order, the building users, and wider society such as English Heritage and historical societies. The constraints of the ancient monument meant it was necessary to use the green area outside for room to develop the worship space. The flood plain dictated that the extension floor should be raised. The new free-standing extension is entered through the original building via arches and a glass arcade formed in an existing length of late 19th century wall.
The first move in the building programme will be to remove part of the 1950s-build covered walkway that links the Priory and the church. The archaeologists and English Heritage will maintain a watching brief and members of the parish will be involved throughout. Each stage of the work will be recorded to meet building monument conditions set by the Ancient Buildings’ Authority. As far as possible, it will be business as usual for the priory community, the parish and visitors.
We do not want to stop using our lovely existing church, so it is being included in the overall design as a gathering place and the main entrance to the new building, through arches in the Victorian in-fill section of the south wall. The new extension will be totally independent in engineering terms from the present church to preserve the structural integrity of the medieval building, which is Grade 1 listed and a scheduled monument. The two buildings will be linked, but the new building will not look to the old one for support.
The extensive use of glass in the walls and roof of the extension will ensure that the medieval building and its footprint can still be clearly seen in its entirety, and that people will be able to see through the new church to the woodland beyond.
The new building is unobtrusive without being retiring, and contemporary without being strident. It respects the scale of its historic setting and still manages to provide for modern space requirements. The new building is constructed off a piled foundation, chosen to minimise interference with any archaeological remains. A few steel columns rise from the raft to support a curved laminated timber roof structure. From the east and west the building is mainly glass screened by vertical oak blades or louvres to reduce solar gain. Views are available from the green space in front of the building through to the trees behind. To the south the wall is solid, in brick and stone that wraps around the corner for a short way to form a solid block or gable reflecting the architecture of the original building.