Worcester College Oxford

The Project

Top-of-the-range bespoke Planorama® aluminium cabinets with laminated UV filter glass tops for display and protecting a collection of architectural drawings.
The Challenge

To offer a new housing system to provide sealed protection from the dust and allow drawings to be stored at a more convenient height.
The Result

‘It allows us to put between four and eight documents on display at a time. It’s much more convenient and secure when we are displaying specific drawings for visiting scholars.'
Could there be a more fitting home for Dr George Clarke’s collection of architectural drawings than the magnificent eighteenth century library of Worcester College, designed by Clarke (1661-1736).  Clarke, a politician during the reign of Queen Anne, was an amateur architect and a friend of the great Nicholas Hawksmoor. He was also a passionate collector of books, prints and architectural drawings.

Housed in the Wilkinson Room, a small panelled space opening from the grand and airy first floor Library, part of the collection Clarke bequeathed to the college on his death in 1736 contains over 1000 precious drawings.

Among the drawings, in a wonderful eighteenth century binding, are Hawksmoor’s perspective of the building and drawings for the rebuilding of Oxford. Other highlights are Clarke’s drawings of the Library’s interior details and Inigo Jones’s plans for the spectacular un-built Palace of Whitehall as well as many of his designs for houses and drawings ‘after’ Old Masters. There are also hundreds of working drawings by William Burges for the Chapel and the Hall.

Clarke’s fine library sounds like the ideal setting in which to house Worcester’s treasures, but as the current Librarian Mark Bainbridge, admits, it has one long-standing drawback. ‘Worcester sits at the junction of three roads in the city centre and the huge amount of traffic means that you can never keep dust out of the atmosphere,’ he says. The dust question became more pressing when a decade-long conservation programme for the Clarke’s collection, led by project conservator Kate Colleran ACR, reached its conclusion at the beginning of the century.

The project had involved removing the drawings from the 1930s albums in which they were previously stored, conserving and mounting them using conservation grade boards and placing them in custom-made Solander boxes. The boxes were stored in wall cupboards integral to the Wilkinson room’s eighteenth century panelling.

‘Our joy at having completed the conservation project was short lived,’ says Kate Colleran. A very fine dust penetrated the inside of the cupboards, settling on the Solander boxes. Although the drawings were safe inside the boxes, handling them spread the dust around and made viewing of the drawing hazardous. ‘We called on the College Architect and we sealed the back and top of the cupboards again and again,’ says Kate. ‘But the dust kept coming from the back of the main Library shelves.’

Kate had been advocating CXD’s Planorama system with the enthusiastic support of Dr. Joanna Parker, the recently retired Librarian, but funds were short.  ‘We knew that a new housing system was needed to offer sealed protection from the dust and also allowed the drawings to be stored at a more convenient height,’ she explains.

When, in 2015, a donation was received, Kate immediately called Stuart Welch to visit the Wilkinson room to sketch out some ideas. The room has a somewhat awkward shape so imagination was needed.  Stuart sketched out a possible configuration for the units. After several visits and modifications, the system was installed.

The cabinets and drawers are made of inert anodized aluminium. Planorama protects its contents from pollution and minimises dust thanks to brushes that fit vertically and horizontally on the cabinets and along the length of each drawer. But, as Mark Bainbridge points out, Planorama also had other advantages. ‘It’s a handmade bespoke system and that meant CXD were able to configure the dimensions of four cabinets and the depth of the drawers around the three different sizes of boxes we needed to store,’ he says.

CXD’s team also came up with a neat space-saving plan for a special cabinet to contain the drawings in the collection which were too big for any box. ‘We had been storing them all in a single drawer in our display table which wasn’t really ideal,’ says Mark Bainbridge. ‘So CXD built a cabinet which was deeper and wider than the other cabinets while fitting neatly underneath our display table.’

Since the installation of the new cabinets in October 2015, Worcester’s treasures have been both safer from dust pollution than ever before and much more accessible.  The cabinets have laminated UV filter glass tops so the contents of the top drawer can be easily displayed. As a result, drawings which were once largely confined to the cupboard now regularly see the light of day. ‘It allows us to put between four and eight documents on display at a time and, as we are able to unlock the top drawer individually, it’s much more convenient and secure when we are displaying specific drawings for visiting scholars,’ says Mark Bainbridge. ‘It means the Wilkinson room can be used as a display area on special occasions — during the Oxford Literary Festival, for example.’

 So what finally of Planorama's unapologetically modern design? What would Dr George Clarke have made of the addition of these sleek and unfamiliar metallic cabinets to his neo-classical interior? ’They have a state-of-the-art look that reflects their performance and which shows we’re taking care of the collection in the best possible way,’  says Mark Bainbridge. ‘We were a bit worried about the contrast in styles but I think has turned out very well.’

For more information and quotations please contact Robert Campbell on +44 (0) 1234 846352

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