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Refracting History - Fort Perch Rock Oceanarium

Part 2 Project 2001
James Hall
Guang Zhu
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
The proposed oceanarium, located within the existing early Napoleonic fortification at Perch Rock, sits at the northernmost point of the Wirral. It attempts to examine ways in which society today can relate to and engage with its history through the adaptive re-use of often decaying sites of historical significance.

Geometries and forms of the building owe much to the ancient Marshellese navigational stick charts, or ‘mattangs’ of the south Pacific. The mattangs represent patterns of swell between atolls in the south Pacific. By measuring the reflection, refraction and interaction of these swells, the Marshallese mariners ascertained their probable positions.

Similarly, the forms of the new oceanarium refract, reflect and interact, infering the historical importance and positions of various fragments of the existing fort. The architecture refracts the fort’s history, splitting it into its constituent parts thus allowing a coherent reading of its staged past.

An abstract topology representing the fort’s various fragments of history was generated and used as a basis for theoretical lines of refraction, along which the oceanarium’s exhibits are unraveled and the past and futures exposed.

Additionally, the function of the building attempts to follow the notion of the fort’s existence as a protector of Merseyside’s waters. Protection of its ports with guns is transformed into protection of its own, and the earth’s, aquatic ecology through education and entertainment.

James Hall
Guang Zhu

The project connects with the issue we face concerning TIME - past, present and future – and the architecture of the creative relationships that ensue. Either these relationships are ignored, become spatially stagnant or full of fresh insight and experience. Since Scarpa’s Castel Vecchio, the most stimulating architecture has emanated from re-cycled history more than it has become visible through ossified restoration or, more significantly, through most of the new architecture of recent decades: our technologies, when displayed alone, seem to blunt rather than deepen our perceptions.

The potential that is released by way of this work for Fort Perch Rock at the top of the Wirral and at the point opening up towards the Western Approaches, is in line with the best of the post-Scarpa family of works. The programme for an ‘Oceanarium’ is inspired and while evidence of Napoleonic times and anti-aircraft batteries are there to touch and view, equally the horizons of our future are there. Nearby one finds a yellow marker buoy where gasoline was pumped southwards through a continuous pipeline from the Mersey to the southern fleets of D-Day. This project offers not just an exegesis of such matters, but also an architectural experience of international standing.

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