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When renovating an old building, the challenge is to create something that is clean and modern, without detracting from the heritage and history of the setting. SIG Interiors partition system Tenon Vitrage created the perfect blend of history and modernity at Durham University…

For its much-awaited reopening, the University wanted to pay tribute to the library’s founder, Bishop John Cosin, with an exhibition on his contributions to the city called ‘Durham Restored’. The Gallery will house historic works relevant to the University, its library, and the City of Durham, and offer a source of inspiration and pride to the University’s students, as well as an attraction to visitors.

Durham University wanted the design of the Dunelm Gallery to echo the cleanliness and modernity of the newly reopened library, whilst acknowledging the heritage of the building, and of the historic works within. The brief was to partition the Gallery off from the spaces surrounding it – but Durham University was keen that the works contained within the exhibition space were still visible to the library’s visitors.

Interior fit-out specialists Halcyon Building Systems was the sub-contractor charged with fitting out the Gallery with glass partitioning in order to separate the exhibition from the main library. This involved creating two glazed archways at the entrance of the gallery: one, a fully glazed wall without doors, the other to incorporate a pair of floor-sprung glass doors.

With a ceiling height of 3.6 metres, however, this was no easy feat, and Halcyon knew there would be significant challenges in selecting, moving and installing a suitable glass partitioning system. However, having worked with SIG Interiors previously, Halcyon immediately knew who to turn to.

“We explained the issues facing us to Tenon’s glass and glazing specialist Dave Sheppard,”

Halcyon’s Senior Contracts Manager, Tim Mitchell says.

“Dave immediately understood the challenges that this project would pose, and how to solve them.”

The clarity challenge

For Durham University, clarity was key when it came to the Dunelm Gallery – the glass screens and doors needed to be as large and as optically clear as possible to give a panoramic view of the works housed within the exhibition.

After reviewing the project requirements, Dave Sheppard recommended SIG Interiors’ flagship Tenon Vitrage system.

Sheppard explains the reasons behind his choice:

“Tenon Vitrage is a low-iron glazing system that offers unparalleled optical clarity, while other glass with higher iron content can often suffer from a green tinge. It’s not a standard installation, but we felt this was the most appropriate option to meet the aspirations for the Dunelm Gallery.”

The desire from the University for the glass partitioning to be arched – and therefore in keeping with the style of the library’s other doors and entrances – posed a significant challenge to Halcyon and SIG Interiors, as the panels are built only in rectangular sheets, and specially cut glass arches would add a significant cost.
Eager to keep costs to the University as low as possible, Halcyon and SIG Interiors found a cost-effective and innovative solution:

“Working closely with SIG Interiors, we designed and built a solid timber frame that would fit round the rectangular glass panels,”
explains Tim,
“effectively forming a glass archway. In doing so, we were able to create the visual effect desired, but at minimal cost to the customer.”

Getting the physics right

While visually the use of 3.6m single sheet panes of glass delivered unrivalled levels of clarity, such a system posed significant structural and logistical challenges to Halcyon and SIG Interiors.

Tim says:

“One of the benefits of the Tenon Vitrage system is that it is self-supporting glass and can be independently secured to the floor. While this helped the structural stability and safety aspects, we still needed to be sure that the system would stand the test of time.”

Halcyon and SIG Interiors worked together to design a system of glass fins, which fitted into the structure at the junctions of glass panels to provide additional stability. These support fins were held in place by stainless steel brackets which, as well as providing additional strength, was in keeping with the look and feel of the building.

“The key was finding a way to overcome practical problems without compromising aesthetics,”
added Tim,
“and SIG Interiors’s contribution was vital in helping us to achieve this.”

Carrying capacity

“Of course, aside from the structural issue, simply getting the product to the site and in place was a major endeavour,”

Tim adds,

“Due to the sheer size of the panels, we needed to be well prepared with a team that was experienced in moving products of this nature.”
Tenon used a six-man team of fitters to deliver and install the panels, each of which weighed 140kg. The job was complicated by the risk of damaging adjoining panels, which were already in situ during installation. According to Tim, however, Halcyon had every confidence that CPD’s team would deliver without incident.
“It sounds silly, but one slip and literally the entire thing can come crashing down,”

he says,

“Managing a large team can have its complications, but having worked with SIG before, we knew it wouldn’t be a problem, and we weren’t disappointed. It was just another example of how our teams working closely together succeeded in overcoming a problematic situation,”

Content customer

Tim is quick to point out that it was not only the product, but the ease at which it was planned and installed that made the project such a success.

Tim said:

“The project provided many complex fit-out challenges; balancing aesthetic requirements with structural stability is no easy task, but the outcome is another positive for Halcyon and SIG’s partnership.”

Rachel Smith at Durham University says:

“The Dunelm Gallery may only be a small part of the University’s major renovation of its historic library on the Durham World Heritage Site, but the refurbishment truly captures the blend of modern architecture and historical heritage. The finished product upgrades the image of the gallery and the glass partitions help to showcase the University’s unique special collections to both students and visitors.”

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