Brighton Sea Life main hall


PROJECT: Structural Restoration Engineering, Sea Life Brighton

LOCATION: Brighton and Hove, East Sussex

CLIENT: Merlin Entertainments

ARCHITECT: Osbournes Architects

RESTORATION WORKS: Barwin Property Services Ltd

PROJECT VALUE: £8.6 million


Restoration and Refurbishment Works

Gyoury Self is proud to have been involved in the restoration and refurbishment of Sea Life Brighton – the world’s oldest operating aquarium. Dating back to 1872, the building was designed and built by Eugenius Birch, architect of the West Pier, and is one of the city’s most treasured seafront landmarks.

Sea Life Brighton’s extensive programme of phased works started 2011, and we provided structural engineering expertise throughout the project alongside a team of restoration specialists including Osbournes Architects and Barwin Property Services Ltd.

Before work started, the Grade II* listed building was extensively surveyed. Although the Victorian parts of the aquarium were found to be structurally sound, the extensions which were added in 1927 were found to be in need of work. This was due to extensive damage from corrosion – an inevitable consequence of the building housing vast quantities of salt water.

Most of the restoration work to the building’s concrete ceilings, walls and structural steel was progressed behind the scenes. However, Sea Life Brighton had to be closed for six months in late 2011, whilst the main Victorian hall underwent extensive refurbishment.

This work included cutting back over 1200 m2 of concrete soffit to enable the replacement and strengthening of corroded steel with new resin-bonded reinforcement.

Gyoury Self also provided structural design and engineering input for the restoration of a vast warren of corridors and ante-chambers which were being opened up to the public for the first time as a Behind The Scenes tour of the aquarium’s breeding, and food-preparation facilities.

In addition to the above, renovation works included pain-staking restoration of the original Victorian carved columns and display tanks. This £2m refurbishment phase was completed in time to mark Sea Life Brighton’s 140th anniversary.

The Gyoury Self team in Brighton and Hove were then involved in an extensive round of works to restore the building and upgrade attraction areas, such as the 20th Century Ocean display area.

A major upgrade to the main ocean tank was undertaken to create a unique Day & Night underwater attraction featuring a huge tunnel for visitors to walk through, surrounded by sea creatures swimming all around them. The massive ocean tank contains 700,000 litres of water, which had to be transported to the aquarium from Hove Lagoon. A large viewing window was installed at ground level for visitors to get a framed view of the underwater seascape; which is now home to a wide range of sea life, from Nurse Sharks and turtles to a wide array of tropical fish. A new a new glass balustrade was also installed around the upper edge of the tank.

We also provided structural design and detailing for the redevelopment of back-office and behind-the-scenes areas, including a shower room and changing facilities for the new ocean tank attraction.

Structural strengthening works were also undertaken to accommodate redevelopment of the neighbouring Aquarium Terraces site which is due to be transformed by Soho House into a new private members club.

We also provided structural design and detailing for the redevelopment of back-office and behind-the-scenes areas, including a shower room and changing facilities in preparation for the ocean tank attractions.

Every aspect of the project involved meticulous planning between the contractors and the client, Merlin Entertainments, with construction works carefully monitored to safeguard the health and well being of the creatures at all times. At every stage, the project was subject to strict building control regulations and consents due to the buildings Grade II* status.

Structural Defects Before Restoration

Gallery of corroded reinforced concrete and water damaged period brickwork prior to restoration and refurbishment work. Click images to enlarge.

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Sea Life Brighton image credit: Laura Sheppard Photography