Fusing the old and the new

At OFR we are fortunate to work on a range of projects, covering all sectors, geographies – and architectural typologies. Here, our director Andy Passingham talks about the work we have been doing to support museums, galleries and other historic buildings as they undergo sensitive restorations and redevelopments, with safe design principles in mind… 

Museum of London exterior aerial CGI

We really are lucky to offer advice to the breadth of clients that we do, with no day the same as we work on varying building types.

Right now, my team’s portfolio is rich in historic buildings, and we are proud to be trusted advisors on places like The National Gallery, the National Rail Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery.

Each is rich in historic fabric, and our work means we work on designs that will allow the heritage to be preserved while adding contemporary new features that keep a building safe and in line with current regulations.  Our involvement varies widely, from early concept work for major redevelopments, to detailed reviews and checking of complex interventions in listed building fabric.

We must take a holistic view of each building in its entirety, and we must understand not only how the client operates the building, but how places like these – which accommodate thousands of visitors – also manage safety.  We need to begin each project with ensuring that we fully understand the existing building fire strategy, which is often not conventional due to the age and unique nature of these buildings.

The National Portrait Gallery is an interesting example of this in action. We’ve been involved in this major redevelopment of a landmark building since the earliest concepts in 2018 and are currently assisting with the construction stage of the project. The fire strategy needs to use the existing fabric of the building in a sympathetic and pragmatic manner and as part of this, working closely with Jamie Fobert Architects and AIS Approved Inspectors, we have assessed over 100 doors in the building to check their suitability as part of the new fire strategy. Many of these doors, and many other internal features, are protected heritage elements so cannot be replaced because they don’t meet modern designs. Instead, each and every feature must be assessed and adapted sensitively and safely. 

In a different vein to large public buildings, we have also recently been involved in several residential heritage projects for private clients who own Grade 1 listed homes in rural areas such as the Cotswolds.  The type of challenges we have met on these projects include owners seeking to be able to use their properties for events such as weddings.  Such changes of use require a different approach to fire safety, with greater demands for fire safety measures such as emergency lighting, signage, detection and alarm.

With these projects we work closely with the clients and architects to find the balance of implementing modern safety features into historic fabric, providing a level of safety commensurate with a hotel, but without losing sight of the building also being a private residence.  We must  allow the property’s original features to remain in place, preserve future safety and allow paying guests to use the buildings on an occasional basis.  The owners of these buildings often view themselves as the current custodians of the building, and are keen to preserve the building for future owners, hence. Along term approach is essential for these projects.  In this aspect these clients are similar to the public buildings – their affection for and pride in their buildings is very clear, and is something that we as fire engineers embrace and work to maintain.

Heritage is important, fire safety is even more important, and by working with our brilliant colleagues and deploying their expertise, we can continue to help preserve some of this country’s best loved buildings, whilst ensuring that they are future proofed – protecting all who use them.

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Andy Passingham

Director

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