Highgate architect restores famous Cutty Sark and makes the Queen smile
PUBLISHED: 16:32 04 May 2012 | UPDATED: 12:32 11 May 2012
»A Highgate architect who led the restoration of the Cutty Sark met the Queen when she officially reopened the ship last Wednesday (April 25).
The iconic tea clipper, which is based in Greenwich, was painstakingly restored after it was nearly destroyed by a fire five years ago.
Following a £50million restoration project, it has been suspended 11 feet above the ground and sits on an undulating plane of glass that resembles waves in the sea.
Christopher Nash, 56, of Highgate High Street, is a partner at Grimshaw Architects and oversaw the conservation project.
Although it was the first time he had restored a ship, Mr Nash confesses the project was a labour of love for several reasons.
“I have always been interested in ships,” he said. “My grandfather was a boat-builder on the Thames and he came from Greenwich.
“Most kids from Greenwich have gone to see the Cutty Sark at some point. It’s the most famous ship in the world.
“I am a keen yachtsman and many of my buildings, such as the Financial Times Printworks, look like ships.”
Mr Nash got involved after a call in 2004 from the chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, who asked if he could come up with ideas for presenting the clipper to attract more visitors.
“Since the 1950s the ship was slowly decaying, becoming rusty and falling apart,” Mr Nash said.
“Visitor numbers were dropping and it was on the verge of being considered dangerous to the public.”
He developed proposals for the clipper, including suspending it in the air so visitors can walk underneath and including a space for exhibitions and events.
He said the concept was based on the whale in the Natural History Museum.
Restoration work began at the beginning of 2006, however the project ground to a halt after the 2007 fire.
“Everyone felt terribly depressed as thought the project would stop,” said Mr Nash.
“However, it was mostly the builder’s plywood that went on fire. All the important parts of the ship had been taken away and were being restored.”
Out of the ashes, came a positive turn to the boat’s fortunes.
“The fire raised the ship in the public consciousness”, said Mr Nash.
Following the fire, the project went onto secure vital funding and work resumed again in 2008.
The project is a significant one for both the Queen – who first opened it to the public in 1957 – and the Duke of Edinburgh.
“When I saw the Duke of Edinburgh last Wednesday, he was absolutely beaming with pride,” said Mr Nash.
“It was his project in the first place and the ship was saved by him in the 1950s.
“He has done a lot of fundraising and he’s happy to have seen it through.
“The Queen was smiling too. I think she thought it was absolutely terrific.
“I’m very proud. It’s obviously the high-point of my career. It’s difficult to know what I can do next.”