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Durham Cathedral Open Treasure Exhibition

Structural Engineering
  • LocationDurham
  • GradingGrade I Listed, World Heritage Site
  • Value£10m
  • ClientDean and Chapter
  • ArchitectPurcell

As part of the £10 million project to create stunning new exhibition spaces in medieval buildings around the Cathedral Cloister, Patrick Parsons were appointed as civil and structural engineers.

Challenges included designing the new structure to allow the passage of services within floor zones without affecting the existing building. The design of plenum and floor structure arrangement to control the air flow in the Great Kitchen exhibition area – where the 7th century St. Cuthbert’s coffin will be housed – was difficult due to the octagonal shape of the Great Kitchen. Our team of heritage and conservation experts were able to overcome these challenges with structual designs that were sympathetic to the existing structure and which used traditional materials.

During the archaeological excavations and site preparation there were a variety of interesting finds. Whilst removing plaster from one of the walls in what is now the Collections Gallery, part of an arch was discovered. This was found to be of historical importance, so was retained and made into a complete arch again to become a feature in the exhibition.

Open Treasure contributes towards the on-going conservation of the Cathedral and its collections, as visitor numbers are predicted to increase, which will generate additional revenue through ancillary spending and donations, and ensure that access to the Cathedral remains free.


The Open Treasure project is the largest investment in the Cathedral in modern times and because of the fluidity of this type of historic project, the design team faced many challenges and design changes. This is due to the exposure of archaeology and uncovering of areas on site that have required amendments to the structural design, in order to provide the best and most sympathetic result without affecting the historic structure.

Mark Turner, Patrick Parsons heritage expert