Cutty Sark is one of the world’s most famous sailing vessels. After being decommissioned, the historic clipper ship has rested in a dry dock in the centre of historic maritime Greenwich where it served as public museum. Grimshaw Architects in association with Youmeheshe Architects and Designers were commissioned to design a cutting-edge visitor centre within and beneath the ship as part of a 27 million pound conservation programme that required closing the attraction for a complete restoration overhaul.
The Cutty Sark Pavilion was built to provide an exciting and memorable temporary exhibition venue. It is dedicated to telling the story of the ship and the ambitious project underway to save her whilst she undergoes restoration and construction works. Originally, it was designed to remain on site during the Cutty Sark’s restoration and the construction of a Permanent Visitors’ Centre (taking 2-3 years). After serving its role in Greenwich, the structure will be disassembled and re-erected elsewhere; possibly serving as a remote classroom, museum, or exhibition space dedicated to telling the tale of Cutty Sark to audiences abroad.
The Pavilion’s role as a public face of the ambitious restoration project became all the more important when a devastating fire ravaged the ship in the early hours of May 21st 2007.
The design aim was to achieve an experience evocative of walking amongst the sails, masts, and rigging of a majestic sailing ship like Cutty Sark. Spherical steel nodes connect a hexagonal timber gridshell structure. A complex tension network of steel cables and masts give rigidity to the overall structure and prop the PVC fabric cladding with telescopic masts.
Tight integration of 3DCAD information between the design team and the contractors enabled the structure to be quickly designed, modified, and built. Digital manufacturing of elements such as the CNC’d structural timber components and the digitally tailored fabric cladding were vital to delivering such an ambitious structure in a mater of months.
Bentley’s Generative Components computational design software was utilized in designing the amorphous shape of this complex structure, giving an unprecedented level of global control over every element. Fairly radical adjustments to the structure’s design were possible even in the latter stages of design. This proved vital in meeting the tight program as well as reaching a cost-optimized solution. The first building of it’s kind in the world, the Cutty Sark Pavilion’s experimental nature met the client’s demand that the temporary visitor center be relevantly engaging and intriguing in order to capture the public’s interest.