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Interpretation Centre

Part 1 Project 2009
James Mc Neill
University of Portsmouth | UK
Located within the historical heart of the city, the Camber Dock site provides an enviable platform upon which to project an architectural vision that might draw upon Portsmouth’s rich history. This is precisely what the building looks to achieve: taking precedent from sea-front fortifications and naval maritime history, the brief and physiology of the building formed into a series of exhibition, meeting and teaching spaces.

The concept guiding the design is inherent in nature to Portsmouth itself. The thick fortified walls that once housed and protected naval fighters are now re-interpreted through thick vertical and horizontal planes, two forms that house different types of space (teaching and exhibition). Contrasting types of space are created within the open, spacious freedom of the exhibition area and the dark enclosed nature of the vertical form’s corridors. The monumentality of the sheer vertical planes and the openness of the raised horizontal platforms are connected via a spine wall that integrates itself within both forms. The building sits respectfully within its site, creating public space that flows from the street scene into the building itself.

The pavilion, formed between two raised horizontal planes, entices the user with its transparent nature and view through to the tactile connecting wall. The programme of spaces within the building leads the user up, round and through to really appreciate the wall. The vertical planes of the northern building look out towards the harbour and harvest the views through narrow slit apertures taking precedent from the city’s fortifications. The view is precious and savored through small openings and fully appreciated within the café area aperture.

The use of the wall as an architectural device, not only through its anchorage of the two building forms, its connecting qualities and its dictation of route and spacial sequence, subtly re-connects the user to the importance of ‘the wall’ within the city’s fortifications and the artworks on “the wall” in front of them.

The materiality of the build manifests itself through dark stone cladding, like those of the fortifications and the larch timber works to soften the tall, sharpened ends of the vertical building.

James Mc Neill

This project for a cultural interpretation centre presented an exciting site , in an historic part of the city of Portsmouth on the water front. It presented a challenge to initially interpret the site and location and use that to develop the brief for the site. the scheme that James produced responded sensitively to the location, creating a building that housed a gallery space which addressed the waters edge and balanced the idea of exhibition inside ,with relationship to view outside by framing visual links across the nearby harbour.

Conceptually the building is a horizontal slab conterbalanced by a vertical slab, one for exhibition, the other for service. this servant served theme determined the organisation of the building , a thoughtful concept well executed. the exhibition element has been reduced to its simplest form, a simple frame, this simplicity was considered through to the detail design.
This scheme is sensitive in its response to site and careful subtlety of the relationship between context, concept and detailed design. The interpretation of the site can manifest itself in a detail, in the understanding of materials and their assembly . This is is the challenge that James set himself and he managed to suggest a careful balance that allows the concept to read through to his understanding of materials and detail.

Ms Lorraine Farrelly
• Page Hits: 17739         • Entry Date: 28 July 2009         • Last Update: 14 September 2009