Command of the Oceans 

Baynes and Mitchell Architects, Chatham, 2016


Subscribe now to instantly view this image

Subscribe to the Architects’ Journal (AJ) for instant access to the AJ Buildings Library, an online database of nearly 2,000 exemplar buildings in photographs, plans, elevations and details.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

At the heart of the scheme is the two-level reception building 

Helene Binet     Download Original

  • At the heart of the scheme is the two-level reception building    
  • The facade is sheathed with seamed black-patinated zinc    
  • View from the north    
  • External detail    
  • Initially, the trust considered a flat-roofed reception building, which the architects resisted    
  • CLT was used on the project    
  • The existing historic timber structural frame    
  • The scheme connects new exhibition and event spaces in the listed Georgian naval workshops on either side    
  • A new floor covered the ship’s timbers, providing valuable space to the Wheelwrights Shop above    
  • The contextual logic of the reception space is amplified by the run of scissor-trusses down its long axis    
  • The undercroft of the building    
  • Site plan    
  • Lower ground floor plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • Sections AA, BB and CC    
  • Under construction – concrete casting    
  • Under construction – fresh concrete    
  • Under construction – temporary deck during installation of new floor    
  • Under construction – temporary propping of historic structure    
  • Under construction – the timber frame    
  • Development sketch    
  • Development sketch of car park    
  • Before sketch by Ptolemy Dean    
  • After sketch by Ptolemy Dean    
  • Detail section between Wheelwrights Shop and link building    

A bold design and inventive solutions have transformed Chatham dockyard, with the new visitor centre bringing the site’s old buildings back to life.

At the heart of the scheme is the two-level reception building, which connects new exhibition and event spaces in the listed Georgian naval workshops on either side. The building has been inserted into the gap between the two-bay Mast House and the previously defunct three-bay Wheelwrights Shop. The structure replaces the Mast House entrance, which was at lower ground floor level. 

Visitors now cross a slightly sloped, black-painted steel bridge, with minimal detailing, which takes them from the car park to the ground floor of the Command of the Oceans reception and exhibition spaces. They pass through a façade sheathed with seamed black-patinated zinc and find themselves in a volume that leads directly to the Mast House and Mould Loft on one side and, on the other, down a ramp into the Hearts of Oak gallery. The black sheathing is in deliberate contrast to the off-white paint on the adjacent run of historic naval workshops, whose jagged roof pitches are irregular in height.

Apart from the substantial and protruding CLT portal casings that lead into the upper exhibition spaces, and the big rectangular window at the south end of the reception volume, interventions are low-key.  

One of the most significant obstacles to construction was the protection of historical timbers in-situ while the floor above them was being constructed. The initial main contractor (who went into administration two-thirds of the way through the build) proposed the solution. Tension cables were run through the building, picked up at either end by rows of large concrete blocks, and supported at intervals along their length by chains connected to box trusses spanning between existing beams. Metal trays sat on the cables, providing a working platform above the timbers (in effect, a suspension bridge) that facilitated the entire construction of the new floor. Once complete, the temporary floor was removed without any requirement for construction personnel among the archaeology.


  • Begun: Jul 2014
  • Completed: May 2016
  • Floor area: 1,800m2
  • Sector: Arts and culture
  • Total cost: £8.1M
  • Procurement: Traditional GC Works
  • Address: Main Gate Rd, Chatham, ME4 4UY, United Kingdom

Professional Team

AJBL Sponsor


VMZINC has almost two centuries experience of manufacturing a wide range of rolled zinc products for use in construction

Find out more