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Hull Minster extends a warm, wide welcome with new visitor centre

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Words:
Eleanor Young

A new visitor centre completes Hull Minster’s rehabilitation as a space with a wider community reach in Bauman Lyons’ practical and intriguingly detailed project

The Bauman Lyons’ project at Hull Minster has had three distinct phases over 15 years. They each appear quite different: public realm, the reordering of the interior and an extension to the south. But there was one overarching ambition – to open up what is one of the largest parish churches in the UK to its city. Now complete, it is easier to peer into, easier to enter, easier to enjoy a coffee in, and easier to use for events.

In 2009 the falling congregation, high costs and a vacancy for the parish priest left churchwardens fearing it would close. Instead the church, upgraded to a minster in 2017, has galvanised Hull, which, through individuals and local trusts, funded the first two phases of work. And the sense of confidence engendered by the project has given the activities a boost, from an unexpected beer festival to the creation of a weekly warm zone where those at care homes, among others, come along for coffee and a praise service. And outreach to six local primary schools has brought back young people and their families to sing at the church.

  • The open nave with its welcoming glass doors can be used for city and community events.
    The open nave with its welcoming glass doors can be used for city and community events. Credit: Nick Dearden
  • The Trinity Room sits humbly beside the church, its stone piers echoing the rhythm of the older building.
    The Trinity Room sits humbly beside the church, its stone piers echoing the rhythm of the older building. Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Elegant doors give the narthex inside the church ceremonial weight.
    Elegant doors give the narthex inside the church ceremonial weight. Credit: Nick Dearden
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Director of operations Alistair Hutson and churchwarden Iain Ogilvie have a robust, pragmatic view of the project as a living building, with all the dishwashing and pew shifting (we’ll come to that) it entails. Hutson’s irreverence is only offset by his obvious love for the place. He relays the glee with which visitors use the space, from unexpected favourite seats in the café to customers waiting to use a particular loo – which has a different view of the church facade (we’ll come to that too) and different heritage titbit on the back of the door.

The drama of a grand entry into the church is embedded in the new narthex, or porch

The best place to start on this project is where the city meets the church. That used to be at a Victorian churchyard wall that surrounded the building, topped with railings. This gradually became an ad hoc car park. Now it is a simple square with shallow mirror pools in the paving and concrete benches that float on a delicate tracery as they are underlit in the dark. Reworking of the churchyard extended to the whole square as the council took on the design. Leeds-based Bauman Lyons, which had won the competition for the design, worked with Reform Landscape Architects on it. It was ready for the City of Culture 2017 which opened with an RIBA commissioned installation designed by Chile-based Pezo von Ellrichausen.

  • Concertina doors open up the servery, which can be quickly hidden away for other activities in the space.
    Concertina doors open up the servery, which can be quickly hidden away for other activities in the space. Credit: Nick Dearden
  • The vicar’s porch has a real sense of history and materiality – thanks not least to the incised ledgerstones.
    The vicar’s porch has a real sense of history and materiality – thanks not least to the incised ledgerstones. Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Newly opened up route alongside the minster buttresses. Loos at to the left, the Trinity Room ahead.
    Newly opened up route alongside the minster buttresses. Loos at to the left, the Trinity Room ahead. Credit: Nick Dearden
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I visited on a Monday when the minster is closed. On any other day the solid timbers of the western door would be held back, with a new pair of glass doors ready to slide out of sight as visitors approach them. The drama of a grand entry into the church is embedded in the new narthex, or porch, with long burnished bronze handles to grab, whether on the day-to-day side doors or the double doors facing the altar, directly down the aisle, ready for a grand procession. It is simply and clearly detailed, with a step up in the centre to accommodate the existing architecture.

Because the other changes are invisible to those who didn’t know the minster before, it is tempting to ignore them, but like many reorderings in recent times phase 2 involved sorting out the floor of ledgerstones commemorating burials, installing underfloor heating and the removal of Victorian pews. This was typically contentious especially given that some were particularly ornate. And so a not entirely satisfactory compromise was reached. Special pews are placed along the sides of the church. Some of them sliced up into chairs so that more of the curved ends can be put to use – resulting in a rather cluttered over-decorative look. Other pews are stored out of sight (onsite, as a condition of removal) – ready to be set out for special events, although they haven’t been as yet. And the pews that used to look inwards can be disassembled and rolled on wheels into the best formation for the occasion.

The delicate brass screen at the Trinity Room can also be opened onto the square. Credit: Nick Dearden
The screen gives a sense of enclosure while maintaining the openness. Credit: Nick Dearden

Of the project’s three parts, the most recent to be completed is a visitors’ centre, the Trinity Room, which mainly operates as a café. It has a rather striking brass filigree outer layer which speaks to the fine finials and grotesques of the church’s stonework, and a sense of depth of materiality. This is the most visible intervention and the screen is one of the most debated parts of the project – although on the upside a condition of getting it through was to make it bronze, rather than anodized aluminium. Over the long project the screen, with patterns derived from the minster’s vaulting, has gone through various iterations which have been more or less Moorish.

The most unusual part is the framed view of the church through the roof when seated on the loo

The screen certainly gives character to the steel and glass box, from both inside and out. That left Bauman Lyons to focus on making it work internally with circulation along the edge of the church on either side of the vicar’s porch with buttresses creating café niches. The most unusual part of the experience – which must surely soon be enshrined on Trip Advisor – is the framed view of the church through the roof, when seated on the loo, which quite eclipses the modest timber fit out.

In the context of Hull’s current crop of new buildings, from the Old Town to the mouth of the River Hull, this is a special project which allows the church to play a full life as a backdrop to the city and as a venue, rather than slowly falling apart as its parishioner numbers dropped.

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In Numbers

Total contract cost: c£6.5m
GIFA cost per m2 overall phases 2 and 3: £1445
Total Area: 5945m2

Credits

Client: Holy Trinity Development Trust
Architect: Bauman Lyons Architects
Contractor: Geo Houlton & Sons
Project manager: Alan Wood & Partners
Cost consultant, principal designer and structural and civil engineer: Alan Wood & Partners
MEP engineer: Sutcliffe Consulting Engineers
Church quinquennial architect: Ferrey & Mennim
Archaeologist: Humber Field Archaeology
Approved inspector: Morgan Wolff
Landscape architect (phase 1): Re-form landscape architecture
Public realm contractor (phase 1): Eurovia

Suppliers

Water feature (phase 1): Fountain Workshop
Pew joinery (phase 2): Houghtons of York
Stone mason (phase 3): Gomersall Partnership
Polished concrete floor (phase 3): Concrete Polishing
Brass tracery grillage (phase 3): Kendrew Architectural Metalwork

 

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