Cutty Sark Museum Is Demonstration of How NOT To Mix Old And New

Grimshaw Partners/Promo image

We keep saying that the greenest building is the one already standing; I don't know if you can stretch that to the greenest boat is the one that is already floating. However the restoration of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich certainly demonstrates a lot of the problems that can come up when you take an old building, or an old boat, and try to restore it and bring it up to contemporary standards of conservation and current code requirements for accessibility.

The restoration of the ship, started before the disastrous fire of 2007, always controversially planned to lift the ship ten feet up so that people could walk under it. They did this, according to Wikipedia, by "installing a steel belt around the hull tied by diagonal steel members passing through the hold to a new steel reinforced keel. Horizontal tubular steel struts passing through the hold will brace the diagonals apart while many of the corroded original hull frames are being doubled." They then wrapped it in glass. The results are bizarre. The Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan writes:

All the way around the hull, extending about halfway up it and several feet outwards in each direction, sweeps a giant new smoked glass cushion, utterly obliterating the ship's thrilling lines. From outside, at least in the daytime, you can't see the shape of the Cutty Sark's hull anymore. You can't see her prow. Her wonderful, gilded stern is almost totally obscured from casual view by the glass surround.

In her years of cutting ribbons, Her Majesty has had to smile politely at many brave new mistakes. But few can compete with this clucking, Grade A, Bernard Matthews–class turkey. One of Britain's most precious maritime treasures now looks like it has run aground in a giant greenhouse.

(Bernard Matthews is a big British turkey company, substitute Butterball or favourite American brand)

Architectural critic and writer Hugh Pearman tweets his disgust with pictures. He calls it the Hoversark.

Hugh Pearman/Screen capture

And this is what the glass skirt looks like.

Hugh Pearman/Screen capture

Oh, and it has become a kind of trireme as well as a hovercraft

Hugh Pearman/Screen capture

Allow me to share with you the top of the lift shaft they have punched through the Cutty Sark

Amanda Baillieu of BDonline wonders.

The Cutty Sark was famous for many things and one of them was she never sank. After her re-launch today some might ask if this wouldn’t have been a nobler end.

I think that is a little rash. But when I visited the Cutty Sark with my kids a decade ago, it looked like a ship. Now it looks like a ride at the West Edmonton Mall. And it is little more than a ride now; according to Steve Rose in the Guardian, they did it for the money:

In today's climate, you need to host corporate events and the like to keep such an attraction going, so the new space created beneath the ship doubles as a venue for hire.

I am a big fan of preservation and of adaptive reuse, but the idea of turning a ship into a fifty million pound roof of a party venue is not appropriate design.

Tags: A Picture Is Worth | Preservation | United Kingdom

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