National Waterfront Museum, Swansea

National Waterfront Museum, Swansea


Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Structural Engineer


Steelwork Contractor

Billington Structures Ltd

Main Contractor

Mowlem Building


National Waterfront Museum Swansea

Forming a key element in Swansea’s regenerated Maritime Quarter, the design for this landmark museum was driven by the site’s historical narrative and the need to achieve coherence between a refurbished existing building and extensive new gallery space. Steel was used in the construction of these new galleries, enabling the team to create the sweeping, column-free interiors necessary for large exhibits with a considerable lightness of touch.

The design is a response to a broad-ranging brief, the main objective of which was to underpin local regeneration. The consideration of sustainability issues were an integral part of the design process, ensuring the best value was obtained environmentally as well as economically, and the widest possible measures were employed to minimise the negative impact of the construction process.

The project involved the refurbishment of a Grade II listed warehouse on the dockside, and the construction of a series of new-build gallery spaces alongside. The refurbishment of the existing building included extensive repairs to badly corroded perimeter steelwork and sympathetic changes to the interior, opening up the exhibition spaces within. The existing steel roof trusses were retained, their triangular geometry emphasising the airiness of the space and providing good distribution routes for ductwork and cabling.

Connected to the warehouse by an expansive atrium, a series of new galleries form an arc of interlocking, double-height volumes. The decision to use steel for the structure of these new galleries enabled large, column-free interior spaces to be achieved with the lightest possible structure, the steel being easily integrated into the glazed elevations. The team established the principles of the design early on, refining them to create a steel structure that was simple and elegant, with a clear hierarchy of parts in those elements that remain visible. The use of steel enabled structure, services and architecture to be successfully integrated, and allowed the significant areas of roof and upper floor cantilevers to be achieved in the new galleries. For these new galleries the steel was fabricated while the substructure was being constructed, then delivered to site and rapidly erected to ensure the earliest possible watertight construction.

The roof structure is geometrically complex, and close collaboration with the steelwork contractor helped determine the most practicable way of reviewing the connections. Rather than reviewing hundreds of steel fabrication drawings, the designers simply viewed a three-dimensional computer model of the entire structure, created by the steelwork contractors. Together they swiftly ‘flew’ around the structure looking at critical aspects of the detailing, saving many weeks within the overall construction programme.

Judges’ Comment


This museum complex creates an excellent result with the minimum of fuss and ostentation.

It skilfully links old and new, into a sequence of effective spaces. Crisp steelwork and glazed curtain walling play a crucially important part.

The project has a simple, clean design that is logical in its detailing and uncompromising in its execution. The result is a classic of its type.