Gypsum fibreboard panels from specialist supplier Fermacell were specified for the new home of one of the most historically significant private collections of fine and decorative arts, for their loading capabilities at least.

Some 4,000m2 of fermacell board was used to dry-line the walls, ceilings, bulkheads and external soffits of the award-winning gallery, the new home of the 5,000-strong Portland Collection, on the historic Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire.

Designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, better known for the Halley VI relocatable research station in Antarctica, the £5 million gallery, which exhibits a rarely-shown Michelangelo drawing and a pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution, is located within the historic walls of the so-called Tan Gallop, a former indoor ¼ mile racehorse training arena.

The brief from Welbeck’s charitable Harley Foundation was for a public building with longevity that had to display a finite number of works of art over three exhibition periods, meet the conditions for lending with national museums, and hold its own among the historic buildings already on the estate.

Hugh Broughton designed a brick and glass entrance pavilion with two galleries – a barrel-vaulted Long Gallery appropriate for full-length oil paintings and lit by a rooflight running its full length, complemented by a Treasure Gallery with louvered north lights and varying ceiling heights. These elements are supported by office, service, and loading and packing areas.

Much consideration was given to the colour for the collection’s setting, with the plain white frequently used for modern galleries retained for the preliminary reception spaces and visitor facilities and the display walls given over to mid tones – mid grey to deep red, supplemented inside individual showcases with green and a rich blue.

Its rural location and lack of a gas utility network meant electrically driven plant was required to heat and cool the 880m2 (GIA) building but the use of air-sourced heat pumps and 60kWp photovoltaic array has achieved an A-rated EPC, with the building predicted to emit only 5.04kg of CO2/m2 per annum.

The fermacell gypsum fibreboard panels were installed over five months by teams of up to eight men from The ALD Group for main contractor Caddick Construction onto fermacell steel profiles which allow greater build heights and slimmer walls as well as speedy installation. The panels were then treated with fermacell’s FST (Fine Surface Treatment) to give a skim-type finish.

At up to 100% more dense than standard plasterboard, which gives them their incredible racking strength, the 12.5mm square-edged fermacell panels provide a cost-effective single-layer solution to pattressing, being capable of carrying up to 50kg per cavity fixing and 30kg per screw for dead loads.

This negates the gallery having to plan particularly carefully in advance where items are to be hung and consequently where specific areas need to be pattressed, making the exhibition design scheme ultimately flexible and future-proof, and the wall section thinner than the traditional plasterboard/pattress combination.

ALD Group project manager Karl Angell said: “The project was certainly challenging and highly detailed, with various shadow gap details. These required a high level of thought and technical input. But the Fermacell products were faultless, particularly the FST.”

Greg Penate, project architect, Hugh Broughton Architects, who have specified fermacell for other projects including Maidstone Museum, said: “We specified fermacell for all the gallery spaces and entrance pavilion for its direct tile bonding application in wet areas, higher supporting strength per square metre (supporting large art/casings) and direct external canopy soffit application.”

Lisa Gee, director of The Harley Foundation, said: “The finished building and its displays draw on all our ideas and inspirations. The beautiful attention to detail in all of the finishes harks backs to the Harley Foundation’s commitment to craftsmanship and the mark of the hand.”

The new gallery for The Portland Collection has already won four RIBA East Midland Awards 2016 and a RIBA National Award 2016.

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