Restoring history

Located off bustling Regent’s Street in the heart of London’s West End, renowned department store Liberty stands as a location with a rich history of selling high-quality homeware and fashion with timeless, universal appeal.

One of the capital’s architectural treasures, the Liberty Building was originally constructed in 1927, by founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty, and is one of the country’s finest examples of the Arts and Crafts style. Referencing Morris, De Morgan and Voysey, its Neo- Tudor exteriors and interiors are filled with intricate and interesting details, making it a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike.

Almost a century old, this extraordinary, Grade II listed building, which also includes 24,000 cubic feet of oak and teak salvaged from wooden battleships HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable, was in need of a full restoration ahead of its 100th anniversary.

Working with highly respected conservation practice Heritage Architecture Ltd, DBR (London) Ltd, was appointed as the principal contractor across this unique project. It was an undertaking that would put many of DBR’s different traditional skills and services to use.

Calling in the experts
A pilot project carried out in 2019 by Heritage Architecture to better identify the requirements of the restoration, from the building’s exterior timber cladding to the massive number of stained glass windows across all façades, identified the sheer scale of the task ahead. The practice quickly identified they would need to bring in a specialist conservation contractor which understood the challenges of working on projects of this size.

DBR, one of the UK’s leading contractors, had over three decades of heritage conservation experience. Having completed many prestigious commissions on landmarks including the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, The Royal Albert Hall and The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, it was ideally suited to carry out the wide range of essential conservation work specified.

Commissioned in April 2019, DBR carried out trial investigation works to the façade of Liberty to inform the external refurbishment scheme of the requirements to upgrade the building’s envelope. This included the careful erection of specially designed access scaffolding, with painted hoarding panels and wraps to protect the building from external elements during the work.

The thorough and meticulous early investigations also included window refurbishment trials to the lead lights and metal casements, alongside paint removal trials to the render panels, Tudor-style oak beams, the masonry and lower ground supporting structure.

Comprehensive analysis further led to DBR being commissioned at the end of 2019 to being brought on to carry out the subsequent multi-million pound façade and roof refurbishments, which included the overhauling of over 1500 leaded light windows as well as the contractor design of the building’s roof lanterns.

The full complement
Structural work commenced on-site in January 2020, with a completion date set for December 2021. DBR is well known for its in-house historic fabric conservation trades and was able to dedicate a team of stone cleaners, stone masons, bricklayers, plasterers, joiners, lead workers, conservators, and gilding and fine decorators to deliver an unrivalled, highly-accomplished conservation project. The team was further supported by specialist subcontractors, including scaffolding, stained glass conservators, conservation metalworkers, glaziers and M&E engineers.

Work gets underway
The initial paint-stripping of the façade’s rendered panels, teak timber panels and intricate carvings gave DBR’s team the first glimpse of the incredible adventure which awaited, particularly the awe-inspiring salvaged timber panels so integral to the Liberty story.

Furthermore, the iconic Liberty Clock and hidden stone gargoyles kept things interesting for the team during the renovation, alongside the repair and gilding of the symbolic Mayflower weathervane.

The stonework repairs carried out by DBR’s skilled stonemasons demonstrated their care, precision and attention to detail. They were even working with replacement Portland Stone from the same seam used for the original 1920s construction. Fittingly, their work evoked the mastery of Lasenby Liberty and his contracting team Higgs & Hill.

DBR’s joiners also had their work cut out with the façade’s exposed teak timbers. Teak is not a viable, sustainable repair material so they had to use English Oak, with a hand hewn face to splice-repair rotten sections of hardwood, a task requiring a huge amount of delicacy and deftness.

New light through old windows
One of the standout operations on the project was the complete conservation and refurbishment of the 1500 leaded lights and metal-framed windows across all four of the stone’s facades. The complex work required the removal of the windows and frames, with temporary lightboxes installed to ensure shoppers were afforded illumination. The leaded lights were then separated from the steel frames and casements, with conservation work carried out by Holy Well Glass (leaded lights) and Arts Heritage (Steel).

Other fine examples of DBR’s high levels of craftsmanship include the conservation repair of the Mayflower weathervane, the internal decorative plaster panels to one of the atriums and the repair and renewal of the roof gullies, lead flashings, decorative downpipes and hoppers.

DBR’s team also completely overhauled and redesigned the large glazed roofs over the 3nr atriums within the Liberty store improving internal light levels and at the same time reducing solar gain.

External factors
The pandemic posed a problem for the whole construction sector, with new restrictions and protocols to follow, to ensure maximum worker safety. The Liberty project was no exception, with short-term and long-term measures implemented to ensure people’s wellbeing and minimum workflow disruption.

The DBR procurement team responded quickly by ensuring enough stock of PPE and disinfecting materials were immediately available across all operations. The site management team constantly monitored the cleanliness of the site, ensuring social distancing guidelines were maintained to provide maximum protection to the project workforce. These measures, quickly introduced, ensured seamless and smooth delivery of services, meeting deadlines ahead of the scheduled early 2022 completion date.

Commenting on the project, DBR Executive Director, Adrian Attwood, says: “Liberty has been a unique project to be involved in and provided an exceptional opportunity to showcase the breadth of skill and levels of craftsmanship which abound across our company. Not only did the team rise to the myriad complex and fascinating challenges this site possessed, I also want to applaud their resilience and ability to adapt to a set of unusual and unforeseen circumstances.”

DBR is a specialist conservation company that deals with the cleaning and repair of historic fabric and the regeneration of historic buildings. High-quality workmanship, expertise, and a dedicated and sensitive approach to the care of buildings are the foundation of its thriving business. Well known for its exemplary in-house craft trades, DBR is one of the leading conservation specialists in London and the South East of England, working on some of the UK’s most notable landmarks, including Grade listed buildings, scheduled monuments and World Heritage Sites, as well as parochial churches, country estates and modest memorials.

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