Iconic historic architecture vs. energy efficiency

oum-project-2013-21M Peckett in Billings 2013

The recently completed roofing works at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History were initiated as a response to recurrent leaks during wet weather, and to the accumulation of a century and a half worth of dirt[1], yet it was also an opportunity to implement energy efficiency measures by reducing draughts. Considering a sixth of all heat is lost through gaps in windows and doors in domestic properties[2], that lost through the three glass tiled roofs at the museum must have been significantly more.


Parle 2013a – before cleaning

The removal of the tiles for cleaning and refitting was extremely time-consuming given that each tile is overlapped by three others and due to the delicate nature of the material. The 8,500 Victorian diamond tiles were constructed from cast glass on sand, and the dappled lighting caused by their texture is notably atmospheric and identifiable as a part of the museum[1].

The individual merits of each building should be evaluated when deciding upon a suitable approach for alterations. The ‘spectacular[2]’roof forms an integral part of the building’s character and is a fundamental part of the building’s Grade I listing. It is a rare instance of Victorian neo-Gothic design and craftsmanship, combining glass, decorative ironwork, and wooden struts and beams painted with unusual geometric patterns (which are beautiful, btw)[3]. Therefore, extreme care had to be taken when devising an energy efficiency scheme.


M Peckett in Parle 2013b

To maintain authenticity of fabric and the integrity of the roof’s appearance, the original tiles were retained and mechanical fixings avoided (as they had been originally) by using compressible mastic seals[1].  The architectural and historic significance of the Victorian glass tiles was prioritized over the use of more energy-efficient substitutes, such as double glazed panes or secondary glazing. This preference is not so clear-cut in generic historic buildings, but I feel that it is justifiable in such an awesome building.

oxford museum

M Peckett in Parle 2013c

Electronic resources

Beard Construction (2013) ‘Glass roof restoration for iconic Natural History Museum’, http://www.beard-construction.co.uk/nathistmuseumnews.html?zoom_highlight=oxford+museum+natural+history. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Billings, S (2013) ‘A blur of activity’, http://www.darkenednotdormant.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/a-blur-of-activity/. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Changeworks (nd.) ‘Tenement Fact Sheet: 2 Draught proofing of doors and windows, and between floorboards; secondary and double glazing,’ http://www.changeworks.org.uk/uploads/TFS_02.pdf. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

English Heritage (2007) ‘List entry: The University Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum’, http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1081534. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Parle, R (2013a) ‘Raising the roof’, http://darkenednotdormant.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/raising-the-roof/. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Parle, R (2013b) ‘Roof revelation’, http://darkenednotdormant.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/roof-revelation/. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Parle, R (2013c) ‘Reports from the rafters’, http://darkenednotdormant.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/reports-from-the-rafters/. Page consulted 19 January 2014.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History (nd.)’Museum closed for refurbishment during 2013’, http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/visiting/closure.htm ‘. Page consulted 19 January 2014.


Gayle, P (2013) The Oxford Museum of Natural History, radio broadcast, BBC Oxford, 15 January, 6:00am.

[1] Beard Construction 2013; Parle 2013

[1] Purcell architect N Bradley interviewed on Gayle 2013.

[2] English Heritage 2007

[3] Purcell architect N Bradley interviewed on Gayle 2013.

[1] Oxford University Museum of Natural History nd.

[2] Changeworks nd., 1