Stanton Williams’ new sustainable archive building for the Britten–Pears Foundation (BPF), houses the extensive collection of music manuscripts, letters, photographs and recordings of the composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears.
The archive building complements the site of The Red House in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, the Grade II listed former home of Britten and has been completed in time for Britten’s Centenary celebrations.
Stanton Williams’ design roots the building firmly in its context and is appropriate to the listed house and garden, providing optimum environmental conditions for preservation of the significant collection through pioneering low-energy means, achieving a passive archive environment.
The design concept is that of an ‘egg in a box’: thick, well insulated walls enclose the main storage room, surrounded by a buffer space which helps moderate the temperature and relative humidity between the outside environment and the material within.
A volume to the north contains staff offices, support spaces and a study room, with generous windows on the west and north façades allowing views out to The Red House gardens.A southern volume houses the archive collection, raised from the ground to protect it from flood risk. This functional and efficient concept is based on a tradition of building treasure houses, granary stores and shrines and gives form to the ‘precious’ nature of the collection. The use of solid brick for construction both connects the structure visually with the rest of the site and provides intrinsic thermal mass to meet the archive building’s high environmental standards by passively controlling internal relative humidity levels.
Re-housing the archive created opportunities to free up space within the existing buildings on the site, most importantly, the composition studio in which Britten worked from 1958 to 1970, and where masterpieces such as War Requiem were written, has been re-created for visitors to experience.
By bringing together this internationally important collection in one central location for the first time, the new archive will play an important part in preserving Britten’s legacy and serve as a research centre for future generations of musicians and music lovers.
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