How did architect Hawkins/Brown and services engineer Atelier Ten install cabling and ducting in a listed Victorian manor house without ruining its character?
Converting a Victorian country house to laboratories without destroying its original character sounds a bit of a tall order. But not for London-based architect Hawkins/Brown, which recently upgraded the grade II-listed Silwood Manor near Ascot, Berkshire, into a fully-fledged, modern research facility for Imperial College, London.

Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, of Natural History Museum fame, the three-storey building had suffered various interventions and had been out of service for the past seven years. The £1.3m refurbishment has provided the college with teaching labs and offices for 75 students, as well as accommodation for other departments.

The bulk of the internal works were on the first and second floors, where research laboratories were installed. Extensive re-roofing and restoration of the ornate, red brick and stone elevations were also completed during the 20-week operation. Services and re-roofing were the biggest items on the budget.

The refurbishment includes new power, data and voice outlets throughout, complete rewiring, new lighting, and the remodelling of the WC core. But you have to look pretty hard to find the cables and ducting.

So, how did Hawkins/Brown and services engineer Atelier Ten manage to organise a complex spaghetti of cabling in a building with few existing voids or runs without detracting from the architectural quality of the interiors? The answer lies in the creation of vertical ducts and ceiling bulkheads in the manor's circulation areas.

Seven discreet electrical risers provide vertical distribution from a new IT hub in the basement. At less than 100 mm deep and ranging from 300 to 1200 mm wide, these MDF-clad ducts also carry power, lighting, voice, fire-detection and alarm services. Located in corners of corridors, they are hardly noticed. On the ground floor, oak panelling to dado height has been repositioned to form the facing of the ducts.

Risers link up with bulkheads running below corridor ceilings to allow the horizontal distribution of cabling into office areas. These are faced with white Danogips ceiling planks and contain Concord LED downlights. The bulkheads extend along the entire length of some corridors, with cabling branching out into offices, meeting rooms and other areas via the floors. Inside the rooms, the cabling is distributed to end users by surface-mounted, PVCu dado trunking with voice, power and data sockets.

A new WC core, formed by metal stud and Gyproc plasterboard, is repeated on each of the three floors. Waste runs into existing cast-iron soil and vent pipes on the external elevations, and mechanically extracted air is ducted out through the roof of the building via ducts in the voids between the new drylining and the existing walls. Lighting is provided by downlights activated by passive infrared detectors that switch off the light 15 minutes after the toilets are vacated.

Original features have been retained where possible: cast-iron radiators have been overhauled and regrouped to increase heating capacity on the first floor. Flat panel radiators installed throughout the second floor harmonise with the existing decor.

The refurbishment is not without the odd eyesore: existing services have been left exposed, and there are the unavoidable, green "running man" fire-escape signs and the red fire extinguishers. Nevertheless, this is a confident updating that accommodates a modern services installation in an exuberant Victorian building.