It looks like the new ‘re-installation’ of Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol may be worth a visit. A recent article by Mark Whitby in The Architects’ Journal indicates a very smart piece of ‘experience design’ around the beautiful old vessel:
“The fabric of the building itself appears, like the contents, to be in a state of artful decay suggestive of a business that is transient and about the crafting of great objects. Such a stage set was part of the client’s brief. It recognised the concept of constant maintenance as something that would make the experience real. This creates the illusion of a working building within which it is almost possible to feel the iron dust under one’s feet; smell the Player’s Cut on the breath of the invisible midshipman; and sway with the ship in the crow’s nest.”
The ship is positioned within a dry dock, which features a false glass ceiling at the waterline, sealing the ship to the sides of the dock. This glass roof is then flooded with water from above, enabling the exterior of the ship to be seen ‘floating’ whilst creating a new exhibition space underneath the glass and around the hull. This ‘underwater’ environment can also be controlled to prevent any further corrosion. As the article notes, this underwater environment presents “a glorious Jules Verne adventure”. (The architects are Alec French Partnership, with Arup.) It’s a lovely concept, which looks to have been neatly implemented amidst the deliberate chaos of the shipyard.
The article is accompanied by some great photographs by Paul Riddle, and some good cutaway plans, but nothing which illustrates this concept neatly. So, sitting in the pub at half-time, I made a quick sketch on the article thusly:
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