Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

DSDHA, along with artist Nathan Coley and LDA Design, was shortlisted in the international competition that sought proposals for the master planning and redevelopment of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. 

With a million visitors a year, the Dockyard is an active naval base that encompasses the National Naval Museum, Mary Rose Museum, as well as notable historic warships such as HMS Warrior and HMS Victory. 

Our proposal argues for a revitalised and inspiring setting within which to appreciate the active life of the Royal Navy as well as learning from the significant events of Naval history. Our goal was to widen the base’s audience, engaging both the present and the future generations who will visit the Dockyard as part of being in Portsmouth. Our approach was to integrate the ‘living’ aspects of the base with the emotive historic narrative of the site, offering a single, coherent, and easy-to-navigate visitor experience, which would also allow for chanced encounter and explorations. Above all, our aspiration for the project was to recapture the spirit of the Dockyard as an intrinsic part of the city of Portsmouth, as it has been historically when it was home to 23,000 workers during the Second World War. 

As such, our proposal identifies The City & The Hard as the principal approach to the Dockyard, the first in a sequence of four connected spaces, unified by a coherent landscape treatment. Working within the existing proposal for a two-phase programme of redevelopment, our scheme proposes three further character zones: Exploration & Trade, Memory & Service, and Power & Industry. These four narrative zones build on the existing character of the Dockyard and its former uses, whilst unlocking the experiential potential of the in-between spaces that connect the various museums, ships and visitor amenities. 

The first themed zone – The City and the Hard – consolidates the gateway to the site, enhancing the interface between the dockyard and the city. Through a strategy of decluttering, enhancement of the existing public realm, and introduction of a new welcome pavilion, we aimed to create a valuable new pedestrianised public space and reinstate the Dockyard as an integral part of the city’s identity. 

Immediately inside the historic dockyard gates, the second zone – Exploration and Trade – focuses on improving accessibility to the HMS Warrior, the first of the Royal Navy’s iron-hulled war ships, built in 1861. A new pier will host numerous active uses, including a water taxi drop-off point, bandstand and salt-water lido, offering visitors new perspectives on the HMS warrior. New botanic gardens, which consolidate the existing Porters Garden, will feature plant species from around the world, reflecting the site’s rich history of exploration. 

At the heart of the site, the third zone – Memory and Service – honours the individual contributions of the 23,000 civilians who worked at the Dockyards at its peak in 1944. Working closely with the artist Nathan Coley, DSDHA proposes a series of roughcast concrete ‘landings’ that act as permanent memorials to those who defined the human face of the Dockyard. 

As the site widens out at its northern-most point, final themed zone – Power and Industry – celebrates the role of naval innovation and technology. 

Tying together these zones, a series of new trussed-timber structures pay homage to the Dockyard’s history of boat building and craft. These adaptable structures - including a pier, a viewing tower, a navigation screen, and a playground – act as way-finding landmarks, and as stage sets for new types of activity in the Dockyards. 

The geographical coordinates of the Dockyard are used to provide a contemporary, overarching identity, which reinforces the message that the Dockyard is a place of both destination and departure.
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