National Maritime Museum

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William Fawcett
tel: 01223 460475

CAR has completed a Conservation Plan for the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The NMM forms part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, sandwiched between Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory to the south, and the former Royal Naval College, now the home of the University of Greenwich, and the River Thames to the north.

The Queen’s House is the centrepiece of the NMM. It is the first building in the Italian Renaissance style ever designed in Britain, by Inigo Jones in 1615. Before it had even been finished in the 1630s the design was changed, and it has been modified over and over again since then.

The Queen’s House has been pored over by generations of architectural historians, so CAR could do little more than summarise the mass of existing data and conjecture (some of it contradictory!).

There was more to be discovered about NMM’s other buildings. They were built in the 19th century as school classrooms and dormitories and converted in the 1930s for museum use. The polite but bland exteriors were hardly changed in the conversion; the interiors were gutted. The most exciting insertion was a travertine-clad rotunda designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

The whole site is listed at Grade I but many areas are of little intrinsic interest – fortunately, in view of the institution’s perpetual appetite for change. One of the Conservation Plan’s main purposes was to help the NMM identify opportunities for modifying the buildings without loss of heritage value. More positively, it identified areas for improvement, particularly the landscaping, where the present arrangements fail to exploit the site’s potential.

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