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Faith Museum

Secular and Sacred

Níall McLaughlin Architects

Faith Museum
By Michael Webb -
Schüco, Kingspan have participated in the project

Bishop Auckland is a former coal mining town with a castle that was begun in the 12th century to protect northern England from Scottish marauders. It formerly belonged to the prince-bishops of Durham. Like so many relics of the Industrial Revolution, the town’s economy took a hit from the closing of the mines; unlike most, it found an angel. Jonathan Ruffer, a lawyer turned investment manager, is a devout Christian. He decided to devote most of his fortune to good works, founding the non-profit Auckland Project to regenerate the town and attract tourists. In 2013, his advisory committee selected Níall McLaughlin Architects to master-plan the project, restore the castle and add new structures, including the recently completed Faith Museum.

It was an inspired choice, for the Irish-born architect has made a specialty of juxtaposing new and old in such contentious locations as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (THE PLAN webzine, 2022). This requires a sensitivity towards history, context, scale and materials, plus extraordinary diplomatic skills. Seven years of experience in dealing with college committees and the expert staff of Historic England fueled McLaughlin’s success. As he explains, “you have to be good at dealing with well-educated, articulate people who question everything. It is essential to have a persuasive narrative. Historic England give us good advice and review our proposals constructively. They have been willing to approve controversial structures where the local planning authorities would not have had the courage to do so”.

The first task at Bishop Auckland was to restore the castle. McLaughlin joined forces with Purcell, a firm that specializes in historic restoration, and their research disclosed a maze of foundations, fragments and additions extending over nine centuries. As they pieced together this jigsaw puzzle, McLaughlin added a new wing and planned gardens that...

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