23 September 2020

The Box Wins the Conservation Project of the Year Award


Conservation Project of the Year 2020

Congratulations to The Box, Plymouth, for winning the Restoration/Conservation Project of the Year awards at the Museums + Heritage Awards 2020. We are proud to see our design vision come to life and delighted to see the naval figures safeguarded for the future.

The project saw 14 Royal Naval ship figureheads restored to their former glory and suspended overhead in the museum's triple-height entrance hall. The result of painstaking conservation and engineering, the figureheads appear to sail across the space, poetically recalling Plymouth’s role as point of departure for countless maritime voyages.

Abby Coombs, our Project Lead for The Box explained:

'Very early on in the project we saw the figureheads in their old home at the Devonport Dockyard. The contrast with their surroundings was striking – inside this unassuming engine house were these huge objects that spoke so much about Plymouth’s heritage, its relationship to the sea, and its role as a gateway to the rest of the world. We were developing our design vision for The Box, and felt immediately the figureheads needed a starring role.'

These huge objects spoke so much about Plymouth’s heritage, its relationship to the sea, and its role as a gateway to the rest of the world.

Abby Coombs, Associate Director and Project Lead, Event Communications

Seeing our vision come to life

As we worked with the architects on the layout of the new building, we began to realise the potential of the new atrium. The space is triple-height and filled with light, and this gave us the idea of positioning the figureheads up high, as though they were still on the prows of a flotilla of great ships gliding in from Plymouth harbour. This was challenging, as we would need to suspend some figures from the ceiling and mount others from the floor. It meant undertaking detailed surveys with the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre to see what was possible.

We collaborated with structural engineers to develop a system of mounts and suspension points that were fixed directly into the atrium ceiling. Meanwhile, the conservation team had assessed the figureheads for structural integrity and they then began a programme to stabilise them and fit them with the internal and external supports we needed to put them in position. They also researched how the objects were originally decorated so they could restore them to their former glory. Lastly, we worked with a specialist mount-maker so that the visible fittings are as discreet as possible. The end result uses an elegant system of mounts and suspension points that are fixed directly to the ceiling, with fittings that are visibly discreet but robust enough to hold each figurehead’s weight.

Putting together this display has a been a real team effort – we’ve had the support of great specialists, plus the expertise of our contractors, the installation team and everyone from The Box. It’s been wonderful seeing our vision come to life. We’re really pleased with the results.'

The scale of the figureheads is really something to behold, as is the huge amount of vision and work that has taken place to conserve and display them in such a unique way.

Tudor Evans OBE, Plymouth City Council Leader