How do you insert a modern visitor entrance and introductory exhibition into a complex which is immersed in historic industrial architecture and naval engineering? Baynes and Mitchell Architects came up with a simple and bold solution – create a 21st century neighbour for the historic buildings around it.
Opened in 2016, the outside is black zinc cladding, the inside is traditional, but modern, with an elegant timber truss roof that connects the two adjacent buildings together and leads down to the new introductory galleries for Chatham Historic Dockyard inserted into the old Wheelwrights Shop and the Mast House and Mould Loft.
‘The idea of a black-clad visitor entrance was there from the beginning….The cladding itself looks suitably robust and it has a method of assembly that echoes the timber boarding of its neighbours.’ (Project architect Brendan Higgins).
From the entrance, the visitor travels across one of the most complete naval dockyards in the world with huge cathedral like buildings created for building ships and, in the 20th century, submarines, plus the longest brick building in the world, the Ropery, which is ¼ mile long and continues the tradition of making rope at Chatham for the last 400 years, though the original timber walls were long ago replaced with brick. One of these buildings, the immense No 3 Covered Slip built in 1838, was at the time the largest wide span timber structure in Europe. This was a time to break the mould!
Scattered around the site are pieces of engineering machinery made by Glasgow companies such as J.Bennie and Sons, R.G.Ross and Son and Hugh Smith & Co Ltd of Possil, a reminder of when the UK in Glasgow and at Chatham was pre-eminent in engineering, something we need to regain post-Brexit.