Nestled in a leafy corner of Battersea Park, a new boathouse takes its inspiration from the Victorian era – updated for the 21st century
In Battersea Park, south London, a new boathouse seems to float delicately on the surface of the water beneath the mature plane and chestnut trees. It looks like little more than a copper roof with a double pitch as steep as a ridge tent. But just before it hits the water, the envelope switches to natural timber boarding and tucks sharply inwards on either side, like the hull of a boat. Dappled patterns of sunlight dance across the boarding, reflected off the water directly below.

As you approach the boathouse around the lake, it turns out to be a larger and more substantial structure, rising to a height of 6.6 m. In fact, it is not a true boathouse at all, as all the dinghies for hire are lined up outside along a boardwalk. It is more of a boat attendants' depot, containing an electric-powered compressor for aerating the pond, a rescue boat and a small workshop and store.

Built for Wandsworth council at a cost of £282,000, the boathouse forms the first phase of the £10m lottery-funded regeneration of Battersea Park. This was one of Britain's first municipal parks, being opened by Queen Victoria in 1858.

The architect, Rod McAllister of McAllister Co, says: "We were asked by the council's project manager to look at a Victorian boathouse in Hyde Park for imagery. This gave us the ridged roof as the key component. It also allowed us to approach the entire construction in a way that was fresh without pastiche, and using unfinished materials wherever possible."

To support the heavy vibrating compressor, the floor of the boathouse is designed as a concrete raft on piled foundations. The primary superstructure is made up of a series of three goalposts in galvanised steel I-beams. On top of the goalposts sit A-frames in hefty, untreated sections of greenheart, a durable tropical hardwood used to support seaside piers. The purlins and rafters are in treated softwood and the copper sheeting is supported on marine plywood.

At either gable end, the steel goalpost extends out sideways as the frame of a large, sliding door in untreated hardwood boarding. "The entrance sliding door terminates the boardwalk," explains McAllister. "It's made of the same decking, so it's like a turned-up piece of boardwalk. When both doors are open, you can see right through the building. They're like a big 'in' and 'out' sign."

The boathouse was built by Wiggins Gee, with Halcrow as structural engineer and AYH Partnership as quantity surveyor. Hilary Taylor Landscape Associates is the landscape architect.