26 June 2018

Case Study: Command of the Oceans

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The naval dockyard in Chatham, on the river Medway, was once a sprawling 400-acre site where thousands of shipwrights, blacksmiths, joiners and sail makers built, repaired and maintained the Navy’s timber warships, including the 1765 HMS Victory. Today the site is an Ancient Monument of National Importance, having closed its doors in 1984.


The focus of TRADA's latest case study, Command of the Oceans, was first conceived following the discovery of an 18th-century warship called the Namur beneath one of the dockyard buildings in 1995. Its ancient timbers became the catalyst for a project aiming to preserve the dockyard’s history, telling stories of craftsmanship and life during the heyday of the age of sail.


London studio Baynes and Mitchell Architects was consequently employed by Historic Dockyard Chatham and carried out a sensitive restoration, carefully renovating three listed Georgian naval workshops – the Wheelwrights' Shop, the Mast House and the Mould Loft – and inserting a mere 6-metre wide timber entrance building between them. Like the original workshops, the new entrance building is gable-fronted—but a sharply pitched roof and seamed black-patinated zinc façade accentuates it, playfully continuing the irregularly pitched rooftops of its neighbours.


The entrance building – which is composed of whitewood spruce – is, at a closer look, remarkably complex; it accommodates the need for conservation and features links across changes of level to the adjoining workshops, which have been converted to exhibition spaces, and an under-croft gallery. A series of 120 x 200mm glulam columns alternating with concrete columns run along both sides of the building to give additional lateral restraint to resist wind loads, and the roof build-up above the trusses is lined with a 60mm thick cross-laminated timber (CLT) deck which does away with the need for any secondary timber structure.


Visitors walk up a sloping bridge to the main entrance and enter on a new raised ground floor; this extends into the Wheelwrights' Shop, creating a spacious café with a kitchen and toilets while allowing just enough headroom below for the under-croft gallery where visitors may view the ancient timbers of HMS Namur. This is accessible via a ramp enclosed in board marked concrete, intersected at half-level by other ramps which lead to the new exhibition spaces on the other side of the centre in the Mast House and Mould Loft workshops.  


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