Being Brunel

Client  ss Great Britain Trust
Budget  £7m (including fit-out)
Location  Bristol

Being Brunel is a 1000SqM museum dedicated to telling the story of the lift of Isambard Kingdom Brunel through the many personal objects and source material housed and cared for in the Brunel Institute.



2018 Civic Trust AABC Conservation Award (Shortlisted)
2018 Building Awards Small Project of the Year (Shortlisted)
2019 Museums and heritage awards Permanent Exhibition of the year (Winner)


Being Brunel is a unique museum telling the extraordinary story of hero engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel through never-before-seen personal possessions, as well as interactive exhibits and audio-visual experiences. It gives unprecedented access to objects from the National Brunel Collection, currently cared for at the Brunel Institute. Located on Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Being Brunel is housed within a custom-built museum alongside Brunel’s iconic ship, SS Great Britain, and includes an access bridge into the fully-restored Grade II* historic Dock Office building, which formerly housed the offices of the Great Western Steamship Company. This means visitors, including wheelchair users, can enjoy the restored building for the first time.




The project also completes the restoration of the historic dockyard, immersing visitors in an authentic setting for the SS Great Britain. The buildings comprise of a welcome area, café and large double height exhibition space with a n upper gallery leading you into ‘The Mind’ where visitors are treated to a 3D projection experience which tells the story of Brunel’s life through his own eyes. The main exhibition area is inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 and catches the character of these experiences through bespoke steelwork and detailing through to balustrading developed from Brunel’s own sketches.



The new museum building connects into the existing Grade II* Listed Dock Office building at first floor level. This continues the visitors route directly from the ‘Mind Experience’ and takes you back in time to 1850 where you can explore the sights, sounds and smells of Brunel’s Duke Street London Office. The original building underwent extensive structural repairs and conservation works at the start of this project and is now set to remain in position overlooking the harbour and the Dry Dock it has always served.


Being Brunel is a unique museum experience designed around astonishing objects and collections which bring together the story of the life of I K Brunel. The museum has won many industry awards and was developed as the Hub for The National Brunel Network which has been formed to share expertise, research and artefacts related to Brunel across the whole of the UK.


The Being Brunel project delivers a unique experience and was designed to help inspire schools and families with a fun and interactive approach to telling the story of Brunel’s life. The space provides facilities for creative hands-on experiences as well as larger presentations and events while also helping to support the Future Brunels Programme which aims to inspire our future engineers and scientists.

@LABCUK: Fantastic work from the SS Great Britain Trust project that won Best Public Building in the LABC Building Excellence Grand Finals Awards. Congrats to @AlecFrenchArchs @BristolCouncil  Building Control and the project team #labcawards #buildwithus #architecture #building

Being Brunel extends the breadth and depth of the visitor experience yet further, giving people the chance to discover new things about Brunel and his extraordinary life and legacy.

Matthew Tanner MBE, CEO Great Britain Trust