The latest stage in the refurbishment of Brighton Dome Corn Exchange has seen the completion of extensive repairs to keep the 200-year-old Grade I listed building safe, and preserved as part of the city’s history.
An internal ‘birdcage’ scaffold was installed to allow architects and contractors to inspect the deterioration and implement strengthening solutions to protect and conserve the widest single span timber frame building in the country. Following 18 months of works, the scaffold has been removed to reveal the original wooden beams, restored to the designs by architect William Porden for the Prince Regent as his riding house in the early 1800s.
“The Corn Exchange is a unique historic building dating back to the Regency period,” says Architect Tim Healy, from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, who is over-seeing the design of the project. “To some extent we didn’t know what to expect when first investigating the18-metre structural timber frame. Once the layers of paint were removed, we could better understand the condition of the original structure. We were able to find an engineering solution that meant the frame could be repaired and strengthened to make it structurally sound, as well as housing essential production equipment such as the lighting and audio rigs. Seeing the repairs completed and the building restored to Porden’s designs has been really truly rewarding.”
During the restoration, Roman numerals were found carved into the wood by carpenters who would have had the skilled task of assembling the heavy beams into the roof. The numbers enabled the workers to interpret the architect’s plans, with each timber identified in the correct order before being fitted into position.
Additional improvements to the Corn Exchange interior have included sustainable oak cladding along the length of the walls and roof arches, with pilaster columns recreated from archive drawings.
“We’ve always known the Corn Exchange is one of the city’s architectural gems,” said Andrew Comben, Chief Executive, Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival. “This transformation has been a milestone moment for the project. The spaces are starting to take shape as refurbished venues, that not only respect their historic importance but will also offer new and improved facilities for the public to see a wide range of artforms and for artists to enjoy performing here or making new work in the designated creative space. Coming through the challenges of the pandemic, this project really signals a bright future for culture in the city.”
The Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre refurbishment is the first phase in the Royal Pavilion Estate regeneration project, a long-term collaboration between Brighton & Hove City Council, Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival and the Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust. The longer-term vision aims to reunite the historic estate as a cultural destination by equipping it for a sustainable future, a centre for heritage and the arts which reflects the unique spirit of Brighton.
“Following the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic for the arts and cultural sector, it’s encouraging that the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre is moving into the final stages of completion,” said Brighton & Hove City Council leader, Phélim Mac Cafferty. “As part of our commitment to regenerate the Royal Pavilion Estate and to support the city’s economic recovery, the venues and their events programme will make a significant contribution to local businesses and tourism, and will benefit residents, artists and communities. We look forward to when they can welcome everyone back to enjoy cultural experiences in these magnificent spaces.”