Being Brunel Museum

The museum comprises a steel-frame exhibition hall containing multiple gallery spaces and a mezzanine level and a café and was designed in the style of the Great Exhibition, with exposed curved trusses and exposed column connections. There were particular engineering challenges associated with the proximity of the building to the harbour wall. Piled foundations were installed with the ground floor cantilever levering over the piles towards the harbour wall.

The new two-storey building lies alongside Brunel’s historic ship ss Great Britain and as completed in February 2018. Brunel’s ss Great Britain remained fully open while the new museum was built.

The ‘Being Brunel’ project is a unique new museum to preserve the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and which is helping to maintain Bristol as a destination of choice for heritage and culture.

The museum, built in the existing SS Great Britain dock yard and joined by a link bridge to the original Grade II listed dock office (Brunel’s one-time drawing office), has been designed to reflect the historic nature of the nearby wharf buildings and in sympathy with the surrounding developments.

An inordinate number of challenges were overcome to deliver the building on the exact location of Brunel’s former office. The project involved complex logistical challenges during the construction, whilst undertaking major works including piled foundations, structural steelwork, roofing, cladding and a major internal fit out to create a unique and inspirational, interactive visitor experience.

Construction was completed within a live museum, over a historic harbour wall, bound between the floating harbour and the SS Great Britain ship and undertaken whilst accommodating over 150,000 visitors to the main attraction.

The successful delivery of the project on time, within budget to the specified quality and with no compromise to health and safety standards was the result of a clear understanding of the project goals, excellent communication, detailed planning and a strong team ethos. It was the passion, determination and shared goal of the team which successfully completed the new museum on time, within budget and with an exemplary health and safety record.

Clarkebond's re-engineering of a design by others greatly reduced the amount of steel used, reduced excavations and arisings to be sent to waste, halved the number of vehicle movements during the construction stage of the project, thereby reducing carbon emissions accordingly, and saved £500k for the client.

In the first 3 months of operation The Being Brunel museum received some excellent reviews and attracted over 75,000 visitors. 


Client: SSGB Trust
Engineers: Clarkebond
Principal Contractor: Beard
Architect: Alec French Architects
Building Services Consultant: Max Fordham
Quantity Surveyor: Chappell