The Thames Ship Lab
Isle of Sheppey, Kent
The Thames Estuary has been the final resting place for thousands of ships; caught out by storms, shifting sandbanks, and the guns of enemy fighters; the Kentish coast having the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world.
This project was conceived as a space that connects the island back to the sea. It does this through reworking the existing building and the site to create the Thames Ship Lab; a space where wrecks are excavated from the seabed, and brought to the building to be analysed, researched and preserved. This material is contextualised in an exhibition, choreographed to correspond to each stage of the laboratory’s conservation processes.
In order to reinforce and expose the fragility of the existing building, both in its condition, but also how Sheppey, a swampy island, is constructed like Venice, atop timber piles, the main intervention takes the form of a deep excavation. The interior of the ruined church is dug down four stories deep. This move reinforces the archaeological dimensions of the lab’s work; with fragile artefacts re-submerged into the depths to be worked upon, alluding to the surrounding dockyard, once built upon the skeletal remains of decommissioned ship hulks.
As visitors enter the church, they are surprised to find that the ground falls away before them, revealing a four-storey vertical laboratory, animated with workers, technicians and exhibition-goers. The dynamism of this space is extended through the action of a crane, fixed to the roof, delivering artefacts from a new canal beside the building, allowing direct passage between site and sea.
The new laboratory enables visitors to learn from not just the island but also the sea that surrounds it, engaging them in a subterranean excavation of the unseen archaeology that is hidden all around them, a celebration of Sheppey’s rich and bountiful maritime history.
For more information about the design process, detailing the transformation of the Dockyard Church into a new maritime archaeology lab, please watch 'The Thames Ship Lab: A Story', my award-winning short film above.
- E X H I B I T I O N S -
RCA2020, online graduate showcase, Royal College of Art : https://2020.rca.ac.uk/students/beth-roberts
RCA Interior Design Archive : https://interiordesignrca.co.uk/student/beth-elen-roberts
Work in Progress Show 2020, Royal College of Art (January 2020)
- A W A R D S -
Winner of Best Film & Animation in the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art (2020), for short film 'The Thames Ship Lab: A Story'.
Shortlisted for the Dean's Prize 2020 in the School of Architecture, RCA.