In the Navy
THE RESTORATION OF A GRADE 2* LISTED VICTORIAN BOATHOUSE
'UNLIKE THE RATHER HUMOURLESS STRUCTURES OFTEN PRODUCED BY TODAY'S PRAGMATIC MODERNISM, THE CONVERSION OF BOATHOUSE 6 IS A JOY, AN INDICATION THAT A SERIOUS APPROACH CAN DELIVER SERIOUS PLEASURE'. Martin Pearce, Architecture Today
Boathouse No. 6 was built in 1846 and lies at the heart of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. A Heritage Lottery grant has allowed the lower two floors to be converted into a public exhibition space for the Royal Navy, a 275 seat auditorium to be inserted into a bomb damaged part of the building and the second floor converted into a multi-functional conference facility.
The damaged parts of the three feet thick external walls at second floor were reconstructed using traditional materials and historic construction methods. New gauged brick voussoir arches with extremely fine pure lime putty joints were laid over the heads of the cast iron windows and the missing Portland stone door architraves, window sills and parapet copings reinstated. Authentic, structural rough brick arches were built to match the existing internal brickwork and over one hundred metal windows were individually surveyed and repaired.
After careful consideration, it was decided not to clean the masonry or artificially “tone down” the new brickwork but to allow the repairs to be visible and weather naturally over time. Similarly, all internal walls have been left undecorated to retain the character of the original boathouse – including the various paint marks left by boat builders on brickwork where their brushes had been wiped clean over the years. Naval archaeologists helped us discover where original ship’s timbers had been used in the building and samples of the existing lime mortar and paint decoration analysed to ensure that the repairs would match exactly.
In order to solve the complex fire safety requirements, a fire engineering strategy was developed which would allow different public and private uses, preserve the open interior space and protect the elaborate ironwork structure without losing its decorative detail. Sprinklers are used to cool the iron frame, which has had its original stone colour reinstated using a traditional paint.
All the new architectural elements are designed as reversible interventions, to allow the original architecture and the new parts of the building to be “read” separately and to avoid any damage to the existing historic fabric. A complex foundation design was required to support the new cinema, and a boat building welding contractor was employed to construct huge new steel grillages around the original stone foundations. Externally, a new public access deck was designed in hardwood to mediate between the boathouse and the historic seventeenth-century mast pond and to provide level access across the granite cobbled slipway into the building.
On completion in 2001, the building was used by English Heritage to launch their creative reuse initiative. It has since become a successful tourist attraction and is once again an integral part of the historic working dockyard.
CLIENT: PORTSMOUTH NAVAL BASE PROPERTY TRUST