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The Cutty Sark Museum

Tuesday 03 Jul 2012

Interview: Grimshaw Architects

Jim Stephenson 
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After visiting The Cutty Sark Museum in Greenwich, London, WAN interviewed Den Farnworth, Project Architect at Grimshaw, to find out a bit more about the design process.

What was the brief for this project and how was it interpreted by Grimshaw Architects?

The primary objective of the project was to conserve the ship for the next 50 years, whilst also providing a viable visitor attraction. Grimshaw’s most important addition to the brief was the concept of lifting the Ship. This enabled us to deal with sagging of aging the hull which was putting the whole Ship at risk of collapse and also helped to secure the long term financial stability for Cutty Sark by providing a new exhibition space beneath the hull of the Ship which could also be leased for private functions and events.

Was Grimshaw’s concept hindered by the listed status of the Cutty Sark and how was the design altered as a result?

As a Grade 1 listed structure and symbol of national importance, the preservation of the Ship was always the most important factor on the project. The challenge was to bring the Ship up to the standards of a 21st century visitor attraction, whilst being careful to observe conservation guidelines of both the Listing and World Heritage Site status. As such, we worked hard with both the conservation team and relevant authorities to ensure that any interventions avoided the historic fabric wherever possible, were clearly distinguishable from the original fabric, and were ultimately reversible. Rather than being seen as a hinderance, the chance to work alongside the original fabric offered us great inspiration both in terms of materials and structures and provided a truly unique and rich environment in which to work.

The completed restoration of the ship and surrounding Cutty Sark Museum both display elements of contemporary design. How much of the original ship has been retained and how has this been blended into the new museum complex?

About 90 per cent of the original hull construction was retained in the restoration and all alterations made to the ship are reversible. The salt induced corrosion on the ships original iron frame has been painstakingly removed and restored with the original conserved ironwork now identifiable by the white painted vertical ribs, horizontal keelsons, deck beams above and their supporting posts. In contrast all new strengthening steelwork is painted grey so that the new and old elements are clearly distinguishable.

Why did Grimshaw choose to suspend the Cutty Sark above the restaurant and exhibition spaces?

Both the exhibition and the restaurant space were created as a result of the concept of lifting the ship. Cutty Sark’s hull was designed to be bourne by water, rather than resting on her keel supported by wooden props, as had been the case since her installation in the Dry Berth in 1954. As a result, the hull was sagging under its own weight. The new museum space in the void underneath the ship was created as a result of inserting new structure into the ship and lifting it off its keel to stop it from further warping and deforming. Previously, any exhibition or interpretive space had to be squeezed onto the decks areas where space was already at a premium.

What part does the steel latticework on the roof of the museum play in the stability of the structure? Was this an aesthetic decision or is it intrinsic to the structural integrity of the project?

The ship itself is supported by 26 giant steel struts that extend diagonally from the Dry Berth walls to just below the uppermost waterline of the Ship’s hull. New internal compression beams then extend inside the ship between the cradles, providing rigidity to the hull and helping to stop the warping and deformation that had been taking place prior to the restoration. All of the new structures, including the glazed canopy and the bridge that extends from the new foyer to an entrance cut into the side of the hull, are self-supporting. No new loads are imposed onto the ship and the only incursions onto its fabric are the supporting struts and bridged hull entrance. The canopy structure has also been designed to accommodate wind movement of the ship and its masts. In terms of aesthetics, we have no vertical elements within the Dry Berth space beneath the Ship, so it is visually and conceptually clear that the ship is only supported by the struts and ties of the steel cradles above.

What inspired the decision to restore the hull with metal panels rather than timber?

The muntz panels are part of the original fabric, a sacrificial skin that was applied to vessels to increase speed through water and also prevent sea creatures such as barnacles from destroying the hull timbers. New panels have replaced the previous set which were badly decayed, as would have been done regularly as part of the Ship’s normal working life. The alloy used is close to brass in composition and will tarnish from golden to a greenish-brown over time. The same metal has been used to clad the access tower, to provide a visual and material coherence throughout the project.

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
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