£27m museum for the sunken Tudor ship the Mary Rose opens to the public tomorrow
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.
Tomorrow, on 31 May 2013, a £27m museum designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will will open 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. These challenges will be examined in an interview with Wilkinson Eyre and Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will in a future issue of News Review.
The Mary Rose Museum was designed from the inside out. It was imperative for the architects that visitors to the museum be able to experience the sunken treasures as closely as possible to their original position within the ship. The starboard side of the hull has been retained and a virtual port side has been created so that visitors can walk down the centre and enjoy the Mary Rose as it once was.
Chris Brandon, Principal of Pringle Bradon Perkins+Will, details: “Our role was to create a showcase for The Mary Rose and her artefacts befitting their significance, so we designed a museum that would recreate the experience of being on board the ship hundreds of years ago and created a context gallery to highlight its precious contents.
“Coming from a marine archaeological background, finally I can unite my two passions in life - architecture and marine archaeology. I hope visitors to the Mary Rose Museum are as excited by the end result as I am.”
Located in the listed late 18th century dry dock in Portsmouth, the historic nature of the site dictated that the architects refrain from creating a monstrous volume on the quayside. Instead, Wilkinson Eyre has designed a low elliptical form which speaks to the original shape of the Mary Rose using timber reminiscent of that used on the historic ship, stained black to reflect England’s vernacular boat shed architecture.
A shell-shaped metal roof is low-lying so as not to steal attention away from the historic ships and buildings in the vicinity, including the HMS Victory and listed Admiralty buildings. Either side of this elliptical form one can find a rectangular pavilion. One houses the main entranceway, reception, café and shop, while the other incorporates the Learning Centre and main plant room.
Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director at Wilkinson Eyre Architects, concludes: “When you have a treasure like the Mary Rose, which continues to capture the world’s imagination, the architecture of the building takes a supporting role. However, the building has a very significant part to play in projecting the Museum and its remarkable collection to the world, creating intrigue and heightening the visitor experience of this major cultural attraction.”
Two museum interiors have been designed; the first for 2013 to 2017/18 and the second for the period after 2018. Initially the Mary Rose will remain in her protective cocoon while she is dried and be seen through windows on the three levels of the context gallery and the lifts. However, on completion of the conservation process, the context gallery walkways will be opened and the Mary Rose and all her contents will be seen together.
Credits: Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will, architect for the interior; Wilkinson Eyre Architects, architect and design team leader.