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SS Great Britain: A Brunel's Masterpiece Preserved on a Sea of Glass

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is one of the most important figures in engineering history and his SS Great Britain is a landmark example of early Victorian engineering and an important part of Britain’s heritage. It is a wrought-iron hulled, screw-propelled, steam and sail powered passenger ship. The project was to preserve and enhance the ship and create a top grade visitor attraction and education facility.


WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired to deliver a mechanical and electrical engineering solution that was not only ground-breaking and low-energy, but also practical and cost-effective. Much innovation was required on almost every aspect of the design.

Conserving the Ship and Creating Visitor Acces

The brief required a controlled dehumidified environment in the dry dock and ship to stabilise the corrosion of the iron hull. We worked closely with the SS Great Britain Trust and Cardiff University which conducted research and analysis of preventative conservation conditions for the iron structure. We then used detailed computer modelling analysis to achieve an environmental solution that would primarily conserve the ship, but also allow comfortable conditions for visitor access.


As requested by the trust’s design brief, a layer of water flowing across the surrounding glass plate gives the impression that the ship is afloat. It also functions as a thermal jacket for the dry dock environment below, reducing the effects of the ambient environment on the conserved space. Low-energy cooling was provided by using water direct from the adjoining harbour.

The successful solution was delivered within budget and program, leading to an ongoing involvement with the SS Great Britain Trust on a variety of projects in subsequent years.

Client The SS Great Britain Trust
Architect Alec French Partnership
Completed in 2006
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