World Architecture Day 2014
 
 
 
 
Behind the facade of the Mary Rose Museum: Chris Wilkinson, Chris Brandon and Tim Lloyd
Interview by Sian Disson

In 1545, Henry VIII’s glorious warship the Mary Rose sank in the Solent (the strait between the English mainland coast and the Isle of Wight) while leading an attack on the French fleet. To this day it is still not understood exactly what caused her to sink. The Mary Rose lay on the sea bed for centuries until, in 1836, she was discovered by a group of fishermen and in the 1980s brought back to the surface by the Mary Rose Trust.

On 31 May 2013, a £27m museum designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will and Ramboll opened to hordes of visitors eager to learn more about this historic ship and its many tales of battle and victory.

This Tudor-era time capsule houses several thousand artefacts recovered from the depths of the Solent which give an incredible level of insight into the daily workings of a carrack-style ship from the 16th century, however the age of these delicate objects presented a number of challenges to the design team in terms of preservation and presentation. Click here for more information and photographs of the museum.

World Architecture News spoke to three of the key designers behind the Mary Rose Museum: Chris Brandon, Managing Principal at Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will; Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director at Wilkinson Eyre Architects; and Tim Lloyd, Project Associate at Ramboll.

What were the biggest challenges presented on this project and how were these overcome?

Chris Brandon, Managing Principal at Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will

a. The ‘hot-box’ enclosure in which the hull of the Mary Rose is being conserved took up an extensive part of the site. It had to be reduced in size to the absolute minimum to allow the museum to be wrapped around it. This had

 

to be achieved whilst maintaining a very tight control of the environmental conditions within it.

b. For the first five years, windows set in the hot-box provide views of the ship from the decks within the context gallery. However, it has been designed to be opened up and the hot box removed when the air-drying process is complete to allow visitors to be in the same space as the Mary Rose. We needed to design a flexible interior to accommodate two museum designs.

c. The context gallery was fitted within the space between the dry-dock wall and the hot-box enclosure. It was a very tight fit as it also had to accommodate all the environmental conditioning ductwork at the rear and guns that were up to 4m long and weighed over 3 tons. This tightness was used to help create atmosphere and the sense of space within a ship below decks. The extensive structure to support all the guns, cannon balls, anchors and walkways matched the structural grid on the Mary Rose.

d. The context gallery contained both organic and inorganic objects and had to be within a very closely controlled environment behind glass. In order to maintain the mystery of being on board the ship, the need to limit reflections off the glass was paramount.

How does the architecture of the new museum speak to the design of the Mary Rose?

Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director at Wilkinson Eyre Architects

The elliptical form of the building was derived from toroidal geometry and echoes the shape of the Mary Rose. Its curved dark stained timber is a reference both to the appearance of the ship's historic hull and to England's vernacular boat shed architecture. Although we have used an architectural language that refers to the Mary Rose, we wanted to create a piece of distinctly contemporary architecture for a new, state-of-the-art museum.

How did the listed nature of the 18th Century Dry Dock site impact the museum’s design?

Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director at Wilkinson Eyre Architects

The site's historic context within Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, including its proximity to HMS Victory and the listed Admiralty buildings, represented a considerable series of constraints that informed the shape and scale of the museum. The museum had to span over both the Mary Rose and the dry dock but its height was kept as low as possible in order to remain sensitive to the proportions of the surrounding buildings.

The low-profile, shell-shaped metal roof follows this logic and reduces the internal volume of space which has to

 

be environmentally controlled to precise standards to ensure the conservation of the hull.

Can you please explain the technology behind the environmentally-controlled interiors which protect the historic hull?

Tim Lloyd, Project Associate at Ramboll

Ramboll had to ensure the reliable continuation of the conservation process during the construction of the new museum. They also created a high-quality environment within the new giant display case, or context gallery, to protect and preserve both the hull and priceless artefacts. The case’s temperature is maintained within tight environmental limits while large amounts of air are used to replicate the thermal weight of a high mass building.

CFD modelling was undertaken for the ship’s hull to predict air movement, temperature and humidity around the hull and ensure the drying out process over the next 4 to 5 years, can be accurately controlled and monitored.

An earlier quote from Chris Brandon states that ‘we designed a museum that would recreate the experience of being on board the ship hundreds of years ago’. Could you please expand on this?

Chris Brandon, Managing Principal at Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will

The context gallery has been designed deck by deck to reposition all the real objects in the mirror image of the position they would have been on the afternoon of the 19th July 1545 just before the ship heeled over, capsized and sank.

The virtual hull is not a literal interpretation but importantly creates a sense of being on the ship. It is dark and the lighting is focused on the real objects arranged as they would have been, with the real guns mounted on the original gun carriages and all the stores and equipment laid out on the decks.

The virtual hull follows the profile of the Mary Rose and the gallery walkways match this giving visitors a sense of being on board, very close to the objects in a dark tight space, with the sounds of the ship around them.

Image by Luke Hayes.

Editorial


 
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