The Box, Plymouth History Centre
Kristian triumphantly brought in what grew from a local museum upgrade to an international visitor attraction outside the traditional major project heartland. He delivered quality with humble materials by applying joinery-grade tolerances and finishes on elements and junctions rarely benefitting from such attentions. He used his rich experience of heritage and conservation work to forestall problems such as hanging 14 hefty ships’ figureheads from a fire-rated slab without compromising it or breaking the project finances.
About the Project
Client: Plymouth City Council
Contract: JCT traditional
Kristian Cartwright has put Willmott Dixon, a relatively recent newcomer in the southwest, on the region’s construction map with a project that generated huge expectations locally for the 400th-anniversary celebrations of the Mayflower setting sail from Plymouth for the New World. What started out as an upgrade to the local museum evolved over the project’s lifetime into a major visitor attraction to anchor the Mayflower 400 celebrations.
The powerful characters from the art world on the Mayflower 400 programme board all had very strong opinions of what the project should be – and the ability to trigger major change and serious disruption to the project programme. Kristian’s honesty, openness and enthusiasm kept the passions from boiling over and the show on the road.
He combined mastery of relationships with a rich experience of heritage and conservation work, both in project management and as a time-served carpenter with his own business. He insisted on joinery-grade tolerances and finishes for humble materials and junctions not usually subject to such scrutiny. His quality mindset made a success of economical material choices that prevented an otherwise inevitable yet financially impossible overspend arising from the condition of the existing building turning out to be far worse than expected.
Early on, he had acted to prevent the refurbishment uncertainties pushing back the opening date by turning a small preconstruction effort into much larger enabling works that dealt with the complicated demolition. That forestalling of problems was a constant feature of Kristian’s management. When it became apparent the initial cladding design was unsuitable for a marine environment, he replaced it with a better-performing, cost-neutral system.
He developed the structural solution that allowed 14 ships’ figureheads (weighing up to 2.5 tonnes apiece) to be suspended from a fire-rated slab. With the additional steelwork required not included in the cost plan or programme, he covered the entire 11m-high soffit with foam insulation, clawing back time on the critical path and making big material cost savings.
Other technical challenges Kristian overcame included squeezing a tower crane in between bomb-damaged ground, a 17th-century culvert and the site access road, designing the formwork for an 8-metre concrete cantilever 11 metres off the ground, building gallery walls 20m long and 5m high without day joints to ensure the best finish, and removing asbestos-lagged underfloor heating systems. All that, plus driving through hundreds of variations without compromising budget or programme, adds up to a performance that would make any client happy.