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7. Interior Reuse

Beth Elen Roberts

Originally from North Wales, I am a spatial designer and researcher with an interest in adaptive reuse. Prior to my time at the RCA, I studied Fine Arts at Chelsea College of Art (UAL) and received a first-class degree (2013-2016). During my BA, I had the opportunity to specialize in Sculpture, Sound and Spatial practice during an exchange semester at RMIT in Melbourne.

After graduating, I assisted in prop-making for theatre (ROH) and retail in London (James Glancy Design), and undertook a collaborative sculpture residency in Jodhpur, India. I was also selected as lead invigilator for Wales in Venice, at the 2017 Venice Biennale and continued to exhibit my work widely, at events such as Peckham Arts Festival and the National Eisteddfod ‘Y Lle Celf’ where I was shortlisted for the Young Artist’s Scholarship.

I have continued my higher education at the RCA, specializing in Interior Reuse at the School of Architecture and in my final year, have assisted as a student researcher for a publication on Radical Heritages. With a passion for history and narrative, my final master’s dissertation, ‘Finding Place in Hiraeth,’ explored the meaning of 'place' and heritage in Wales through historic literature and photography.

*My short film 'The Thames Ship Lab' exhibited below, was awarded Best Film and Animation in the School of Architecture and my final body of work was nominated for the 2020 Dean's prize.*


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Degree Details

School of Architecture

7. Interior Reuse

I am fascinated by the stories that reside within heritage sites and how they can persist within the material and spaces that remain. It is my understanding that the past is an ever-evolving language; a text that can be read but also reconfigured; translated into new verse. For my final thesis project, it was the story and character of the Isle of Sheppey, and of the Dockyard church that became my text to decipher and re-tell.

As our ‘locked-down’ lives and studies became fastened to a new virtual world; I found myself returning to pencil and paper. I relished the way that working by hand could imbue my drawings with a sense of tactility, enhancing the presence of light and dark, of varying textures and weight. Thus, the story of my design was realized through a series of collages, pencil drawings and a hand-drawn animation.

With the current global focus on the conservation of our resources, the reuse of existing buildings is imperative to the future of our environment. I am very eager to continue exploring the potential of reviving and extending the lives of these historical sites, transitioning them into the present whilst celebrating their memory and unravelling their stories.

Section Drawing of Excavated Site

The Thames Estuary has been the final resting place for thousands of ships; caught out by storms, shifting sandbanks, and the guns of enemy fighters; the Kentish coast having the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world.

This project was conceived as a space that connects the island back to the sea. It does this through reworking the existing building and the site to create the Thames Ship Lab; a space where wrecks are excavated from the seabed, and brought to the building to be analysed, researched and preserved. This material is contextualised in an exhibition, choreographed to correspond to each stage of the laboratory’s conservation processes.

In order to reinforce and expose the fragility of the existing building, both in its condition, but also how Sheppey, a swampy island, is constructed like Venice, atop timber piles, the main intervention takes the form of a deep excavation. The interior of the ruined church is dug down four stories deep. This move reinforces the archaeological dimensions of the lab’s work; with fragile artefacts re-submerged into the depths to be worked upon, alluding to the surrounding dockyard, once built upon the skeletal remains of decommissioned ship hulks.

As visitors enter the church, they are surprised to find that the ground falls away before them, revealing a four-storey vertical laboratory, animated with workers, technicians and exhibition-goers. The dynamism of this space is extended through the action of a crane, fixed to the roof, delivering artefacts from a new canal beside the building, allowing direct passage between site and sea.

The new laboratory enables visitors to learn from not just the island but also the sea that surrounds it, engaging them in a subterranean excavation of the unseen archaeology that is hidden all around them, a celebration of Sheppey’s rich and bountiful maritime history.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil, Water-colour), Collage
adaptationArchaeologyArchitectureArchiveExhibitionHand DrawnHistoryInterior DesignNarrativeRadicalreuseStorytelling
A Journey Between Site and Sea
This short hand-drawn animation captures the journey taken by a shipwreck, salvaged from the Kentish coast into the Thames Ship Lab in Sheerness.


Animation, Collage, Film
The Thames Ship Lab: A Story
At the mouth of the Thames Estuary we find the new Thames Ship Lab on the Isle of Sheppey. This film, documents the design process, transforming the existing Dockyard Church into a new Maritime Archaeology lab.

*Awarded Best Film + Animation by the School of Architecture*
*Nominated for the Dean's Prize 2020*


Film, Animation, Collage, Hand-Drawing, Model-Making, Narration
Entrance to the Thames Ship Lab // Section of the Tower and Lift

Entrance to the Thames Ship Lab // Section of the Tower and Lift

A shallow pool of water and the skeletal keel of a salvaged boat sit beside the entrance to the building, a tantalising preview of the lab’s contents. A thin, cor-ten steel structure is bent above the path, to enhance the transition from a narrow space into the striking, hollowed out interior.

Upon entering the lab, a lift will plunge visitors into the depths of the atrium, where the public exhibition begins.


Hand-drawing (Charcoal, Pencil, Water-colour), Collage (GIF)

The Arrival of the Wreck // A View of the Research Laboratory

A canal will be constructed to connect the church directly to the sea, for the safe passage of boats and their findings to the lab, a crane transferring this material in and out of the building. Here, we see a shipwreck precariously strapped together, being delivered from a research vessel onto the site.

The second image, shows us the first floor of the church interior, where research laboratories overlook the vast atrium, a glass panelled roof casting natural light and dancing shadows into the vast, excavated space. This roof will open and close to receive and dispatch artefacts, and is designed to mimic the skeletal frame of a ship hulk.


Hand-drawing (Charcoal, Pencil, Water-colour), Collage
The Central Atrium // Lowering the Wreck

The Central Atrium // Lowering the Wreck

Having entered the church, this is the first view to greet visitors. Standing on the viewing balcony, they are surprised to find that the ground falls away before them to reveal a large, excavated four-storey space. The central atrium will be served by a crane fixed to the roof, which will submerge material, delivered from the neighbouring canal deep into the lab to be worked upon. This space will be animated by hydraulic gangways and an adjustable roof.

In this instance, a crane is seen to be lowering a wreck cautiously into the void.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil), Collage (GIF)

Viewing Gallery // Subterranean Exhibition

A technician surveys the laboratory from a viewing gallery beneath the magnificent chancel arch, the tower looming ominously beyond the glass panelled roof. The exhibition is designed to reveal the artefacts at their most vulnerable; unpolished, raw and tactile, some exhibited on the crates they were delivered on, suspended from rigging, or held together by ratchet straps, shown with the intention of exposing the delicate process of returning the material to its former condition.

In the second illustration, a young boy examines cannons suspended in vacuum-drying containers. The clean, back lit, glass lockers are a direct contrast to the building's industrial, steel insertion.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil), Collage

The Salvaged Wreck

At the lowest viewing platform, from what could be described as the exhibition’s ‘sea-bed’, visitors survey the dramatic wreck, now submerged into the building, dripping, fragile and strapped to the steel columns, ready to be worked upon.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil), Collage

Tending to Desalination Tanks

At the base of the lab, workers busily tend to desalination containers below the wreck, lit by industrial spotlights. This is a crucial stage of the conservation process, where artefacts are soaked in a chemical solution, stabilising the material and removing salt; a process that can take anywhere between a couple of months to a year.

The sound of the work undertaken; of machinery, tools, creaking wood and steel-capped boots on metal grates, will echo through the cavernous space, enhancing what could become a highly theatrical experience.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil), Collage

Split Section Drawing

Front Section in Detail

A split section of the building reveals an animated space, full of activity; from visitors surveying the wreck to research laboratories, archives, workshops, drawing spaces and suspended artefacts. Light streams into the atrium and activates the dark, excavated space.

At certain times, the glass-fronted labs will be projected onto, animating the space further with survey maps and drawings. On the right-hand side, we see the exposed canal with its water lapping against the exterior wall, providing direct contact between site and sea.


Hand-Drawing (Charcoal, Pencil, Water-colour), Collage

Model-Making and Drawing — Early studies of the Dockyard Tower. Analysing the site and enhancing its fragility by exposing the timber-piled foundations of Sheerness.

Supporting the Tower — Using collage to strap, brace, shore and prop the fragile tower, applying ship-repair techniques used in the local dockyard, and repairing the existing site as if it were a broken vessel.

Early Collage Experimentation — Exposing the supports and scaffolds used to brace the unsteady tower, again using the language of ship-repair to fortify the structure from inside and out.

Designing the Thames Ship Lab (Sketchbook Excerpts) — A collage of the newly constructed canal, connecting the laboratory to the sea and applying the industrial language of the dockyard beyond to the church itself. This is accompanied by a working-drawing which illustrates the building's new layered insertion.


Model-Making, Hand-Drawing, Collage,

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