This project, the most significant external change to the Cathedral in its 300 year history, will consist of two sinusoidal ramps either side of a central staircase to the North Transept door. In its continued drive to extend a welcome to all, St Paul’s will begin construction of the permanent accessible entrance to the north side of the Cathedral this summer, providing inclusive access for visitors, staff and volunteers.
This project aims to demonstrate that carefully designed adaptations for accessibility can not only be permitted, but can enhance heritage. We and St Paul’s hope this will enable others to be more confident and change the narrative around access to heritage buildings.
Acknowledging that this is a substantial addition to the exterior of an internationally significant building the detail of the design has been carefully developed with input from a wide range of statutory consultees, heritage groups, and access organisations.
The stonemasonry has been developed in the form of an enhanced plinth to the north transept portico, with a fine-fluted finish to the vertical surfaces of the Portland Stone and a swept detail at the junction of the walls to the grey granite paving. The handrail and balustrade will be formed in aluminium bronze, a high quality and high strength material to allow a wide spacing of structural members. This will maximise the visual permeability of the balustrade so that the column bases of Wren’s portico can be clearly read. The structure will be entirely built over the existing steeply pitched steps, which themselves were renewed in the 19th century, to minimise the permanent impact of this new facility yet deliver an addition that is worthy of its location.
The Very Reverend David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, said: “When St Paul’s was being rebuilt 300 years ago there was no concept of equal access, and so Wren built the Cathedral in classical style with steps on all sides. In the 21st century the difficulties that some people have in accessing this church are unacceptable, and we are setting out to create an easy and equal way into St Paul’s for all people all of the time, regardless of who they are and any particular need they may have. The granting of consent and start of construction for this project after many years of thought and consultation shows that, with sufficient commitment, even challenging heritage environments such as St Paul’s can be made more accessible.”
Oliver Caroe, Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul’s (the position held by Sir Christopher Wren) said: “A project to install a permanent ramp has a long history and has so far delivered numerous design options – a temporary wooden mock-up which remained in use for over five years, and more recently a fabricated steel temporary ramp, which while serving a functional purpose at present would be inappropriate as a permanent installation for a building of international significance. This permanent ramp will represent the most significant fabric addition ever to the Cathedral and become a lasting feature of one of the world’s best known and most loved buildings.”
Construction will begin at the end of June and is expected to be completed in summer 2020.