Tecton structures at Dudley Zoo
This article describes a visit by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) in 2016. It is based on an article that originally appeared in Context 146, published by IHBC in September 2016 and compiled from reports by Sara Crofts, Claire Gayle and Rosamund Worrall.
The IHBC visit to Dudley Castle and Zoological Gardens was led by architect Larry Priest with input from construction supervisor Carlo Diponio. Priest talked through the repair of four of the 1935-37 Tecton-designed structures, part of a wider heritage lottery funded £1.15 million project to upgrade the facilities at the zoo.
The visitors were deeply impressed by the team’s thoughtful approach to the necessary repairs. Happily, the design team was not under pressure in terms of time, so they could afford to carry out thorough investigative works. The structures were painstakingly cleaned and examined in order to fully understand their construction, including the important use of colour revealed through extensive paint analysis. This allowed detailed specifications for the repair processes to be worked up, and essentially de-risked the project.
Specialist manufacturers were asked for advice on appropriate surface treatments as the team was keen to ensure the Tecton structures retained something close to their original appearance. Innovative thinking was needed to find structural solutions that would allow maximum retention of the existing fabric, leading to the novel use of carbon-fibre as reinforcement.
In every respect this project has been pragmatic – repairs remain visible and the shortcomings of the essentially ‘temporary’ prototype structures have been fully recognised. Techniques, tools and methodologies have been carefully recorded to ensure the lessons learned can be applied to future phases of repair. In essence this is a work in progress, but the visitors were hugely inspired by the passion and commitment of everyone involved.
Discussions were had about the compatibility of the structures with modern requirements for animal habitats. While the Bear Ravine may no longer be appropriate for bears, it is currently occupied by large birds.
Following exploration of the Tecton structures, Chris Hunt explained the innovative ways in which Purcell has been undertaking condition surveys of impressive castles, such as Harlech, Beaumaris and Dudley, which overlooks the zoo and surrounding area. These methods included mobile elevated work platforms (MEWP) and drones to assess inaccessible places, particularly those where the construction may not be sound enough for professionals to trudge around. The presentation demonstrated how advances in technology can assist heritage professionals in their work.
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