Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s first ever project has reopened in London as a cultural attraction.
The Thames Tunnel, constructed 190 years ago, has had its Grade II listed shaft transformed into a performance space.
Back in the early 1800s Brunel organised underground fairs and banquets in the tunnel.
Now architects Tate Harmer has designed a freestanding, cantilevered staircase for the tunnel’s entrance shaft as well as a new doorway. The structure is part of the Brunel Museum. The shaft is about 15m in diameter and 15m deep.
Construction of the tunnel originally began with Brunel’s father Marc. His son Isambard later became resident engineer on what was his first project. It opened in 1843 and was the world’s first underwater tunnel.
Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate said: “It was vital that the staircase and new entrance to the Rotherhithe shaft did not impact on its historical significance. We wanted to celebrate the raw nature of the Victorian industrial heritage while providing the public proper access for tours and performances”.
Brunel Museum director Robert Hulse added: “Brunel was a daring engineer and organised the world’s first underwater concert right here in Rotherhithe. Museums should be places to be inspired and places for celebration and performance.”
Funding came from an Association of Independent Museums /Biffa Award and the National Heritage Landmarks Partnership, as well donations from London Borough of Southwark and operational support from Transport for London.