Fitted Rigging House at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham opens

The grade I listed Fitted Rigging House at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham has been formally opened after an £8.2m renovation.

The building was one of the largest brick building in the world when it was built in 1793 and was used as a dry store for ropes and other material.

Today, it has Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) status and was renovated as part of a project designed to make the listed building, and the 80-acre dockyard site, financially sustainable by creating new rental spaces within the building for commercial tenancy.

As MEP consultant on the project, chapmanbdsp totally redesigned the interior, taking away sections of the floor to make a core stairwell and helping to convert the upper two-and-a-half floors into office space.

At ground level, 21st-century volunteer facilities were created to support the expanding 300 strong volunteer team. The project also involves bringing the Dockyard’s Library and Archive into more productive re-use with greater visitor access to the nationally important collection.

Paul Hussey, associate director at chapmanbdsp, was the lead engineer on the project. He said: ‘The challenge was to design services for a digital age business market and allowing for flexibility in the work place into a building that was created hundreds of years ago for a totally different purpose. The building now has a new central core with shared toilet and shower facilities, low energy lighting throughout and a high efficiency heating system.

'An area was created at roof level for tenants to install air conditioning equipment for IT equipment. One of the things the trust wanted was to ensure that the heritage was maintained. This was a challenge given the amount of services expected in a modern building, however, by working closely with the trust we were able to develop solutions that were both sympathetic and workable’

John Biscoe, chapmanbdsp board director, added: ‘We feel privileged to have worked on such an historic and iconic building, which will now be used in a very different way to its original intention. The fitted rigging house’s thermal mass and historic structure, unlike modern glass and steel structures designed today, helps with solar gains and associated internal temperatures. It means that, combined with natural ventilation, we could design the building to acceptable office comfort conditions without the need for air conditioning, which resulted in lower running costs and simpler installation.’

The building was formally opened by Michael Ellis, minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism. He said: ‘Chatham's Fitted Rigging House Project is a perfect example of how we can make our heritage buildings work in the modern world. As communities change, often these buildings struggle to meet our needs and fall into disrepair. This project is a blueprint for how to utilise our historic sites, so they can be preserved for generations to come.'

Bill Ferris OBE, chief executive of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust added: 'This project marks a significant point in Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust’s history where we begin to move into a position of financial sustainability on a revenue basis. Creating 21st Century spaces within historic buildings is something we have undertaken for many years and this project extends the creative business cluster that is thriving within The Historic Dockyard site. All of this would not be possible without the significant financial contributions and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and a wide range of charitable trusts and foundations which have made this project move from a concept to reality.'

Photo 1. (left to right) – Sir Trevor Soar, Michael Ellis MP, Paul Hussey, chapmanbdsp associate director and Bill Ferris.

Photo 2. (left to right) – Michael Ellis MP meets chapmanbdsp board director John Biscoe.