Located on Tower Street in the center of Chichester, The Novium has been purposely built above the remains of a Roman bath house, which are now uncovered for visitors to see for the first time.
The unique aspect of the plot, which is in line sight of the City’s Cathedral, centered on the presence of substantial archaeological remains of a series of Roman baths, which were discovered in the 1970s.
The baths, part of Roman Chichester (Noviomagnus Reginorum) date from the Flavian period (1st Century AD). The new museum spans the remains of the baths (the hypocaust) which have been incorporated in situ into the main entrance hall and gallery as a permanent exhibit and an intrinsic part of a museum.
The building also contains permanent and temporary galleries, collection storage, workshop, research and library spaces, and a learning room, in addition to public facilities.
The new public galleries are stacked vertically on 3 levels and are linked by a processional stair culminating with view across the city to the cathedral from the Cathedral window, at the building’s highest level.
The idea of processional stair, which in this case hovers above the remnant baths, is a recurrent theme in William’s work, recalling the Unicorn Theatre, Wexford Opera House and the Marlowe Theatre among many.
A slot between the flights brings a numinous light onto the baths and allows glimpses back over the baths from vantage points during the ascent through the building.
The city plan of Chichester is characterised by a ring of partially intact enveloping Roman and Medieval walls, within which the older city is segmented into 4 roughly equal quadrants by a cruciform street pattern centred upon the medieval Cross at the crossroads.
The new Museum’s site on Tower Street, sits in the north-west quadrant, running north from West Street the city’s western arm, close by the medieval cathedral with its freestanding medieval bell tower.
The city’s set piece public and religious structures such as the market cross, cathedral and bell tower are all constructed in pale stone in a city that is otherwise brick or render, establishing a hierarchy of materiality which has informed the surfaces of the new Museum.
As a consequence the Novium has been clad in pale reconstructed stone, establishing its architectural and cultural connection with the tradition of Chichester’s grander public structures, and an architectural accent amongst Tower Street’s otherwise Georgian brick buildings.
The proposed residential development by Williams (yet to be realised) is seen as fulfilling a supporting architectural role to the museum, and is composed of red brick with a set back attic storey consistent with the typical housing model of the city.
The main facade of the Museum is carefully composed and incised to respond to the subtly undulating street scale of the adjacent listed Georgian buildings, whilst the square form turret provides accent and balance to the composition. The elevation is composed using a proportional system including the Golden Section giving a precise order to its abstract expression.