Roman Villa Museum at The Newt in Somerset
The original ruins of the Roman villa at The Newt in Somerset were discovered in 1832 and further, more extensive ruins were also discovered in excavations in the 20th and 21st centuries. The client envisioned guests learning from and studying both the original ruins and an authentic reimagining of the original villa.
Our task was to build a glazed façade on the museum as well as a glass bridge and balustrade sitting over the original ruins. As ever with The Newt, the goal here was for the glass to be as minimal as possible – that meant no sightlines on the façade and no visible support for the bridge or connection between the bridge and balustrade. On top of that, the bridge and balustrade were installed above ruins dating back to 351CE so care had to be taken during the installation to prevent any disturbance or damage to them.
The façade of the museum spans 48m and offers visitors to the museum striking views out over the landscape, as well as a full-scale recreation of the original villa. The client wanted these views to be as unobstructed as possible, so we specified frameless glass bonded with structural silicone to minimise sightlines between the panels.
In order to further reduce the visual interference of the glass wall, we used glass spacer bars units rather than standard structural foam and aluminium spacers. At 4.9m long, these were no ordinary glass spacers and had to be manufactured by one of our specialist glass suppliers and handled carefully – while they were 4.9m long, they only measure 15mm by 25mm in section and are therefore incredibly delicate.
As well as ensuring amazing views over the grounds, the façade also had an important role to play in maintaining the humidity and temperature of the museum to ensure flexibility depending on what’s being exhibited in the museum. We incorporated two layers of insulation between the façade and the outside world in order to create an airtight seal, as well as using high-performance solar control glass, allowing the interior climate to be controlled to suit preservation of historical artefacts depending on the current exhibit. Photovoltaic panels on the roof offset the electricity consumption of this climate control, making the building effectively carbon neutral.
The vision for the museum was for visitors to be able to walk above the ruins and look down at them with no visual interference from the bridge. Clearly, a glass bridge was the only way forward, however, with a drop of more than 600mm between the bottom of the ruins and the bridge (not to mention the possibility of someone falling onto and damaging an irreplaceable archaeological artefact), building regulations stipulate that a balustrade is required.
Therefore, we were left with the problem of how to support the balustrade and fix it to the bridge with minimal visual interruption. To that end, we decided to laminate fixing points in the balustrade and fix it to the floor my screwing through the floor directly into the balustrade. Where the balustrade abuts the bridge, the bridge is essentially hanging off the balustrade with a similar fixing system.
Read more about the ingenious engineering and design of the bridge in our technical case study.