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Black Cultural Archives, Brixton

Designed by GuM parent company, Pringle Richards Sharratt, this new cultural landmark is the first purpose built home for Black Cultural Archives (BCA), the leading independent archive collection dedicated to history and culture of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The building provides facilities for BCA’s core activities of education, research and community engagement.

The practice has been working with BCA to transform a derelict Grade II listed building into a state-of-the-art heritage centre ready to meet the ambitions of the organisation providing a local, national and international presence. The opening of the building marks BCA’s return to Brixton, the archive originally founded on Coldharbour Lane in 1981.

Paul Reid, Black Cultural Archives’ Director commented:
“It is exciting and inspiring to have this wonderful new home. Pringle Richards Sharratt have helped us to get this right by providing expertise, ambition and confidence to bring this incredible project to life. We now have the facilities and space we need to collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of African and African-Caribbean people in Britain”.

The project comprised the restoration and refurbishment of Raleigh Hall, a Grade II listed building, declared ‘at risk’ by English Heritage in 1992. One of the central themes of the architectural design evolved from establishing and interacting with the central six central bays of the listed building, which is the oldest and most significant heritage element on the site. The original building now contains a learning zone, a café and shop as well as office and administration spaces.

A new loadbearing limestone wing is expressed as a beautifully crafted stone box placed safely above the ground. This houses the archive store and a dedicated, flexible exhibition space on the ground floor. Designed to the highest Government Indemnity standards it allows the BCA to be considered as a recognised depository for artefacts of national or international importance. All these areas are provided with high standards of environmental conditions and security.

A glazed connection between the listed building and the new wing allows the two forms to be clearly expressed, with the new wing off ering a frame for the restored stucco façades. A new courtyard has been created in front of the central six bays, the glazed heritage doors of the café opening directly onto it. This creates an external event area and a focal point for BCA’s activities. This can be linked seamlessly to the public realm space of Windrush Square when the entrance gates are opened. This connection is echoed in further design elements such as the large shop front windows, which deliberately draw attention to the building. It moves the Square’s centre of gravity towards BCA and attracts interest from the well-used west-facing boulevard with the popular Ritzy Cinema and Tate Library.

Finally, the building completes Windrush Square giving solidity and permanence to its south end. The Square is a new and significant piece of public realm for Lambeth, and a flagship project of the Mayor of London’s Great Outdoors Programme. The Brixton Central Square project was launched in 2000 by the London Borough of Lambeth in association with the Brixton Area Forum.

Malcolm McGregor, Director of Pringle Richards Sharratt said:
“This was an exciting project for the practice. We’re proud that this new home gives BCA the status and presence it deserves, as well as delivering the practical spaces and technical requirements needed to house their important archive. We know from experience that these projects are complex and often lengthy. They have specific and necessary constraints of funding models and the involvement of multiple stakeholders. We see our role to be as much about the design and ambition for the building as ensuring a shared vision for the wider team and keeping everyone focussed on delivery. We believe our work with BCA is a good example of how as a practice we can bring exceptional design with excellent project management.”

Established in 1996, Pringle Richards Sharratt is known for its significant portfolio of cultural projects, including the award winning William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, as well as its track record in urban landscape renewal and regeneration, most recently in Hull and Folkestone. The practice’s work frequently includes HLF-funded schemes.

The £3.5million construction costs of project included grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and London Borough of Lambeth which also gifted Raleigh Hall to BCA.

Sue Bowers, Head of HLF London, said:
“We’re delighted to be supporting BCA’s vision for a major black history and cultural centre in the heart of Brixton. This project has been a long time in the making but all the more worthwhile for that very reason. Thanks to the completion of Raleigh Hall’s redevelopment, people will be able to learn more about the contribution of black Britons to the UK’s cultural, social, political and economic life.”