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Command of the Oceans

Command of the Oceans

Command of the Oceans

A major refurbishment of two historic listed buildings and scheduled monuments at The Historic Dockyard Chatham has helped create 21st century exhibition facilities and galleries.

The ambitious project, known as Command of the Oceans, was centred on 1995 discovery of the remains of an 18th century naval warship, one of the most significant naval archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Command of the Oceans was created by Baynes and Mitchell Architects. As well as the refurbishment of two listed buildings and a display of the 18th century warship, the project also included a new visitor entrance building and the resolution of visitor orientation problems, the preservation of mast-making monuments and the preservation of the mast ponds and their related external landscape visitor welcome facilities and hospitality services. Baynes and Mitchell Architects were commissioned to carry out the work in May 2011 and it was completed for a public opening in May 2016.

Premier Construction recently spoke to Brendan Higgins, Associate at Baynes and Mitchell, to find out more about the practice became involved the project and some of its key elements:

“We’d done a few projects on the dockyard. Some were very light touches to existing buildings and some involved a bit more work. The Joiners Shop was one of the bigger projects we had down there that turned the old joiners shop into a business centre. That involved inserting some modern elements into the building. From the client’s perspective I think this helped prove we were capable of doing that sort of thing.

“The Wheelwrights Shop was essentially left halfway through the refurbishment and remained untouched for over a decade while the trust took advice on what to do. The floor of the Wheelwrights Shop was essentially the ships timbers left in situ as they’d been discovered. The building was therefore poorly insulated and in a poor state of repair. Immediately next to that, the third bay of that building was being used as the site café and it was it a slightly better condition. It wasn’t, however, really fit for purpose in terms of what the dockyard felt they should be providing.

“The key thing for the Dockyard was how to display the ships timbers. As that building is at the front of the Dockyard, they wanted to combine a gallery space for the timbers with a visible entrance and the hospitality facilities you would expect. Our solution for this was to slot a new building within the gap between the Grade 1 Listed Mast House and Mould Loft and the Wheelwrights Shop. The new building entirely fills that gap, with a new floor level that covers the ships timbers but at a slightly higher level. We inserted a new half level and then excavated below in the gap between the buildings that creates a new gallery space beneath the new floor, in and amongst the ship timbers.”

Since opening to the public, Command of the Oceans has proved to be a hugely popular addition to The Historic Dockyard Chatham. It has won a number of awards at both local and national level, including a RIBA South East Award 2017, a RIBA South East Conservation Award 2017 and a RIBA National Award 2017. Command of the Oceans was also one of six buildings shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize.

To find out more about Command of the Oceans and other projects from Baynes and Mitchell Architects, please visit

Command of the Oceans

Image Credit – © Hélène Binet

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