Clyde Built

Bex Browne, Architecture

A shipwreck recovery centre in Bowling Harbour

A holistic approach to the design is essential to ensure a sustainable building solution. Aspects from the four pillars of sustainability – economic, social, cultural and environmental – should be considered alongside each other from the start of the project. This project provided an opportunity to explore this approach to design.

My scheme is a Shipwreck Recovery Centre sitting on the water at Bowling Harbour. This was a site previously used as winter moorings for the Clyde steamers and is next to what was the Scotts and Sons of Bowling shipbuilding yard. Currently, the site acts as a breeding ground of decay, where shipwrecks have been forgotten and are covered and discovered with the turning of the tide. Deterioration, in turn, becomes an optimal site for supporting the lives of different species of microorganisms; however, their benefit results in the on-going disintegration of the shipwrecks, resulting in a tension between, on the one hand, saving an object of our past and potentially destroying a habitat, or on the other hand, favouring the natural growth of nature over the rich and integral culture of the shipbuilding industry.

Therefore, the design of the building aims to fulfil its purpose as a facility for the recovery, documentation and understanding of shipwrecks, whilst bringing an attention to the cultural heritage of the site and vessels that have been lost over time. Additionally, the design solution seeks to become a precedent for environmental sustainability through materials choices, energy use and water systems, as well as potentially providing economic and social benefits for the local community.


The forms and structural ideas for the building have been heavily influenced by Crannogs, an artificial island with a roundhouse on top, presumably used as a dwelling during the Iron Age. There are the remains of a crannog down river from the site. I have also used it as a precedent for how people lived with the River Clyde and the reliance that they had on it for their safety and survival. Elements of the crannog appear in different forms throughout the building, for example, the human elements of the building are in the shape of a roundhouse, and the use of timber is suggestive of how local materials can be used.


An algae and wind farm is contained on the west side of the site. The algae grown is used as a biomass in a CHP boiler to supply the building with heat and electricity, whilst also becoming a constant reminder of the habitats that are lost when a shipwreck is removed from the sea. The technology of the algae farm takes inspiration from NASA’s OMEGA project, where plastic tubes contain the algae.

Whilst it may seem counter-productive to be putting more plastic into the sea, these plastic pockets enable efficient algae growth in an enclosed environment, allowing filtered waste water from the building to become the food for the algae and emitting clean water back into the harbour. Furthermore, the algae also transfer carbon dioxide into oxygen, providing cleaner air for the environment. It is the hope that this method of biomass production can become a pilot for utilisation by other marine environments to serve their communities. This emerging technology could generate additional jobs and research opportunities.


To minimise reliance on the main water supply, a rainwater harvesting system with a filtration device is integrated into the roof of the building. This system leads straight to the drydock where the incoming shipwreck needs to be regularly cleaned with clean water. Greywater recycling also takes place within the site and feeds into the algae farm as a food source for the microorganisms so that they in turn can produce energy.


Timber use was the starting point for the incline of shipbuilding on the Clyde, however, it was overtaken by the development of steel. Therefore, through new emerging techniques and technology, and encouraging craftsmanship within the building, I have used this design as a chance to celebrate the use of timber.

Timber piles provide the foundations instead of concrete as they are more cost effective, can be sourced locally, are very durable (especially below the water table), and retain the carbon captured during their growth cycle thereby storing it for the future.

Glulam components form the primary structure of the building. The methodology for glulam manufacture uses selected small section timbers to provide engineered structural elements in order to form economically stronger and sound material. Like the piles, it can be sourced and manufactured locally, and offers a versatility on site where building tolerances need to be accommodated. A timber gridshell forms the roof structure, an exquisite example of craftsmanship in contemporary building, and a model as to how multiple small timbers can unite to become one large spanning structure. This craftsmanship refers back to the craft of shipbuilding and its historical importance whilst also providing work opportunities for local people, and a celebration of their culture and skills.


Due to the strict requirements for a controlled temperature in one part of the building, a Trombe wall takes form on the southern side of the building with a curtain wall and 80mm thick terracotta cladding on the interior walls. This is to aid the stability of temperature inside the space as well as encouraging natural ventilation when possible. The two diagrams below explain the how the Trombe is used in winter and summer.


It was crucial to encourage a harmonious relationship between the local community and a building, which may not be regularly visited. Therefore, the regeneration of the area and provision of social spaces was an integral element of the scheme. Providing a new walkway along the pier enables local inhabitants to rediscover this piece of land, encouraging their use of it and its proximity to the water. Additionally, a covered exterior seating area and openly welcoming entrance will hopefully inspire a reconnection with and enjoyment of the site and further an understanding of its use and cultural value. Furthermore, establishing a building and resource in this area will hopefully entice other people and enterprises to set up their businesses and generate a sense of confidence in bringing some regeneration into the town.

To conclude, in developing this scheme I have been considering the interconnections between time, place, function and materials to test how
a holistic approach to architectural design can result in a culturally, economically, socially and environmentally sustainable building.

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Bex Browne
Stage 3 Architecture