SS Great Britain and Historic Dockyard

SS Great Britain and Historic Dockyard

SS Great Britain

Alec French Architects

This project relies on a powerful conceit: that of approaching the historic ship in its original listed dry dock, then walking down a stair that leads you through the meniscus of the water, into a dehumidified chamber that prevents corrosion of the ship’s iron hull. Modern technology is finely balanced against the historic method which allows harbour water to weep past the giant iron caisson into the dry-dock and away through an original drain in the floor. The rusting hull has a mass and poignancy that are enhanced by the shimmering roof and elegant glazed structure. 

Technical investigations established that the decay of the world's first iron-hull ship could be arrested if the humidity level could be kept below 20%, and that the problem only existed below the waterline. It was therefore decided to provide a glass deck at the original water level, which also happens to coincide with the top of the walls of the listed dry dock in which the ship was originally built, and in which she now sits. In an inspired move, this glass deck has been flooded with a few inches of sea water from the adjacent River Severn, so that when you approach, the ship appears to float once more, but when seen close to, the pattern of the glass can clearly be seen.

If the effect from the dockside is intriguing, the view from below is even more delightful, with a beautiful quality of light thrown onto the rusty ironwork of the hull, and onto the elegant steelwork of the new roof, by sunlight filtered through the surface of the moving water. The whole experience produces a delightful moment of architecture as metaphor that is legible and accessible to all.

Top of page