The Box is a transformational project creating a place, experience and service to share the stories and collections of Plymouth and its people with the world. The ambitious project has bought together Plymouths’ museum, archive, local studies, film & photographic collections alongside contemporary art to create a hub of culture for the city.
The architecture of The Box has empowered the opportunity to indulge in juxtaposition. It has respectfully embraced both conservation and innovation. The Box seamlessly blends the old and the new by sensitively linking three of the most culturally important listed buildings in Plymouth with a dynamic extension and piazza.
The archive extension was raised aloft cantilevering daringly over the entrance terrace. It is a proud beacon emerging above the listed buildings in front. Below a double height space is created inviting the people of the city with the entrance, shop and café, situated beneath a mezzanine and a colourful flotilla of delicately restored suspended ships figureheads. Opposite, the third listed building, a decaying former church has been skilfully restored and re-imagined to create a gallery for touring exhibitions.
Previous extensions were removed due to the poor spatial arrangements, and the space created has enabled vibrant new public space that provides a setting from which to better understand and navigate between the original listed buildings. Re-invigorating and re-interpreting these culturally important public buildings has had a significant positive impact on the carbon footprint of the project. Externally barriers to circulation were removed to increase permeability of the piazza for active public use, the layering of placemaking and accessibility both contributing to the generation of a sustainable city piazza at the new heart of the cultural quarter of Plymouth.
Collaboration from the very beginning was at the heart and soul of this project. To breathe new life and vitality into the three listed buildings, one of which was at risk, required bringing together a highly skilled project team. Due to the nature of the buildings and works required it was deemed imperative to bring on expert local conservation labour to work together with the project team to take on the stone masonry, lime rendering, lead work and leaded window repairs. Where possible local contractors were bought onto the project, with 81% coming from PL postcodes. This enabled a profoundly collaborative experience for the project team. In addition to this local apprentices were given the opportunity to gain valuable and unique conservation and construction experience culminating in over 1,325 weeks of onsite training.
The ambitions of this project were huge – for the building, the exhibition and for the visitor experience that progressively evolved during the project. This required skilled project and programme management, including managing specifically dependencies, cost and risk. At the design stage this included collaborative stakeholder and design team management, ensuring the brief and evolving design matched client expectations, budget and programme.
The Box opened with a huge success in September 2020, and saw an incredible 33k visitors in the first 9 weeks of opening of which 77% were Plymouth residents.