Award-winning architects bring the Mary Rose back to life and create a new centrepiece for Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard
The design of the new £27m Mary Rose Museum – by Wilkinson Eyre Architects (architect and design team leader) and Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will (architect for the interior) – is a story of collaboration, with the project team combining delicate conservation, contemporary architecture and specialist technical expertise. The result is a truly unique design that reveals the secrets of the famous Tudor ship, marking 30 years since the hull of the Mary Rose was raised from the Solent where she lay undiscovered for 437 years.
Like crafting a jewellery box to house a precious gem, the design team has together created a building and interior that protects and showcases the Mary Rose. Designed from the inside-out, the Museum building takes many of its cues from the historic ship, allowing its hull, artefacts and exhibitions to take centre stage and create a visitor experience befitting this remarkable piece of history.
At the heart of the project, within a carefully controlled ‘hot box’ environment, is the starboard section of the hull of the Mary Rose. Alongside it, a virtual port-side hull has been created over three levels to view the ship and house the context gallery. Encasing the Mary Rose and the largest collection of Tudor artefacts in the world is an architectural form that alludes to the historic significance of the Museum’s collection and announces the arrival of a major new cultural attraction.
Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director at Wilkinson Eyre Architects, said: “When you have a treasure like the Mary Rose, which continues to capture the world’s imagination, the architecture of the building takes a supporting role. However, the building has a very significant part to play in projecting the Museum and its remarkable collection to the world, creating intrigue and heightening the visitor experience of this major cultural attraction.”
Chris Brandon, Principal of Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will (PBP+W), said: “This museum is unique – the only one in the world to take its inspiration from the archaeological finds of the Mary Rose and the ship herself. Our role was to create a showcase for The Mary Rose and her artefacts befitting their significance, so we designed a museum that would recreate the experience of being on board the ship hundreds of years ago and created a context gallery to highlight its precious contents. Coming from a marine archaeological background, finally I can unite my two passions in life – architecture and marine archaeology. I hope visitors to the Mary Rose Museum are as excited by the end result as I am.”
When working with such a fascinating artefact like the Mary Rose, the architecture needs to complement rather than distract. In this case, the challenge was finding the right architectural language to help articulate the story being told by the Museum, whilst adding a confident piece of contemporary architecture to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The simple, pure elliptical form of the new building is derived from toroidal geometry echoing the shape of the Mary Rose; its timber is reminiscent of the ship’s historic hull, showcasing the innovative Carvel construction methods of the 16th Century. Further embedding the building in its maritime heritage, the timber has been stained black to reflect England’s vernacular boat shed architecture.
The challenges of the site’s historic context, adjacent to HMS Victory and the listed Admiralty buildings, are compounded by the nature of the site itself: a late 18th Century Dry Dock that is listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Care has been taken to keep the height of the Museum as low as possible to remain sensitive to the proportions and scale of the surrounding buildings. The low-profile, shell-shaped metal roof follows this logic and reduces the internal volume of space which has to be environmentally controlled to precise standards to ensure the conservation of the hull.
Two rectangular pavilions are attached to each side of the main building, one housing the main entrance reception, café and shop, and the other occupied by the Learning Centre and main plant room. The overall composition is a piece of contemporary architecture, an elegantly simple form with an air of mystery that encourages visitors to enter and explore.
Mary Rose Museum by Wilkinson Eyre and Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will