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SS Great Britain wins The Crown Estate Conservation Award

The SS Great Britain and Historic Dockyard in Bristol by Alec French Architects has won The Crown Estate Conservation Award.  The prize is awarded to the best work of conservation which demonstrates successful restoration or adaptation of an architecturally significant building.  The announcement was made on Saturday 6 October at a special awards ceremony for the RIBA Stirling Prize in association with The Architects’ Journal   at the Roundhouse in London.

SS Great Britain, the world’s first iron-hull ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843.  Investigations established that its decay could be controlled if the humidity level could be kept below 20%, and that the problem only existed below the waterline.  A glass deck was built at the original water level, which coincides 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 up-close, the pattern of the glass can clearly be seen.  The view from below the deck has a beautiful quality of light, thrown onto the rusty ironwork of the hull, and the elegant steelwork of the new roof, by sunlight filtered through the surface of the moving water.

The Crown Estate Conservation Award judges – Richard Griffiths, conservation architect; Paul Velluet, conservation architect HOK; Roger Bright, Chief Executive of The Crown Estate; and Tony Chapman, RIBA Head of Awards said: “The project demonstrates that heritage attractions can avoid the pitfalls so often associated with the opening of historic buildings and sites to the public if carried out with sufficient imagination and flair. The restoration of the ship and her return to the dry-dock in which she was built make a unique exhibition, but so magical and beguiling are the water-roof and the dock/hull space below that whole experience produces a delightful moment of architecture as metaphor that is legible and accessible to all.”

Roger Bright, Chief Executive of The Crown Estate said today: “I am delighted that the SS Great Britain has won The Crown Estate Conservation Award this year for their innovative approach to regenerating and conserving the ship and dry dock in which she was built. The transformation using ground-breaking conservation technology and stunning glass decking to enable visitors to walk around the entire hull of the ship as if underwater have created a remarkable visitor experience.

“This award is a true testament to the knowledge, skill and dedication of all involved in this project.”

The project saw off strong competition from four other buildings on the shortlist:

  1. Dresden Station, Germany by Foster + Partners
  2. The Roundhouse, London by John McAslan + Partners
  3. Stowe House Restoration, Stowe by Purcell Miller Tritton
  4. William Kent House, The Ritz Hotel, London by Ettwein Bridges Architects

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