Design plans for British Museum’s new development revealed

The British Museum has revealed the designs for its forthcoming development project in advance of a planning application to Camden Council in April 2009. The £135 million development has been designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) and will be the largest development onsite since the Great Court opened in 2000. Subject to planning permission, the new development will open in late 2012.

This project will ensure the Museum maintains its position as a leading institution for the study of human culture, in London, in Britain and the World through an upgrade of key facilities. The development will address urgent needs in terms of the Museum’s infrastructure and will provide a new exhibition space, state-of-the-art conservation and science laboratories and studios, world-class accommodation for the study collection, as well as facilities to support its extensive UK and international loan programme. It will allow the Museum to enhance the exhibition experience, to lend more of the collection and most importantly will continue to preserve the collection for future generations.

The Museum has a rich architectural heritage, the site has developed and grown at each stage of its history. This development will transform an under-utilised section of the site in the north west of the Museum, situated adjacent to the impressive King Edward VII Building which was completed in 1914. The challenge for the architects was to produce an elegant design that expresses the contemporary role and international standing of the Museum but executed in a manner which takes its cue from the Museum’s own institutional and architectural legacy. The design incorporates five linked pavilions (with connection points to the main Museum building), covering 17,000m2 with facades in glass and stone, making a visual link to the King Edward Building. Each building will operate on seven levels, including three underground storage basements.

Prior to submitting the planning application, the Museum has been engaged in an extensive programme of consultation on the project with Camden Council, planning bodies, conservation groups and local businesses and residents. The consultation process has been very beneficial, with comments from stakeholders leading to an improved design concept for the project. English Heritage have declared their support for the development, commenting that the ‘proposals have the potential to provide a first-class architectural response to the aim of achieving the Museum’s objectives, set out in its masterplan’. The pre-application consultation process will continue with a public exhibition at the Museum in early April.

Funding for the project is well underway with £90 million of the total already raised. This has come from a variety of sources, including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The Museum is confident it can raise the remaining funds to complete the project.

The development aims to be as energy efficient as possible, the placement of the different functions has been carefully considered to minimise energy consumption. Zero carbon technologies will be incorporated into the building through the use of roof-mounted photovoltaic cells, and ground source heat transfer will also be employed in the basement walls to mitigate heat loss and provide cooling to upper floors. The electric lighting-system will automatically dim or turn off where and when there is adequate daylight to illuminate the space.  The development will form part of a site-wide strategy to reduce energy consumption.

Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director of the British Museum said "The development will be a hugely significant project with multiple benefits for the public, the collection and for staff. It will enable the Museum to show more, lend more and preserve more of its collection for the benefit of current and future generations."

Graham Stirk, Project Director, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, said: "Our proposal for the redevelopment of the north-west corner will provide a flexible series of spaces which support the wide range of activities undertaken by the British Museum.  We have introduced five linked pavilions which complement the solid, formal identity of the existing Grade I listed buildings, as well as responding to the structural rhythm of the adjacent King Edward VII building.  This design will be highly adaptable to the Museum’s changing requirements over time."

For further information or images please contact:
British Museum – contact: Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522 or
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners – contact: Paul Stelmaszczyk, Head of Communications: +44 (0)207 746 0213 / +44 (0)7958 633621 /

Additional information

Special Exhibitions Centre

The Museum has built an enviable reputation in recent years for once in a lifetime exhibitions such as The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army and Hadrian: Empire and Conflict as well as smaller, thought-provoking shows highlighting contemporary middle-eastern art, Japanese crafts and American print-making. The Museum has been able to use the Reading Room as a temporary exhibition venue to house some of these exhibitions but is in urgent need of a flexible purpose-built exhibition space to accommodate more visitors to ensure a comfortable and engaging experience. The North West Development includes a temporary exhibition space of over 1,000 sqm which will allow the Museum to cement its status as a leader in curating, designing and displaying special exhibitions.

Science and Conservation Laboratories

The British Museum has the largest conservation and science department in the country, covering an extensive range of materials, both ancient and modern, from the Museum’s huge and varied collection. The department is internationally recognised for its ground-breaking work, creating new knowledge and new techniques that are shared with museums thought the UK and the world. Current facilities are in need of updating and the state of the art laboratories, studios and library facilities in the development will ensure the Museum can continue to care for and research its collection. It will also allow for an expansion of the Museum’s highly regarded conservation training programme.

Logistics and Collection handling

The British Museum is committed to lending objects from the collection within the UK and across the world. The Museum lends more of its collection than any other museum or gallery, 4,000 objects to 150 institutions in 2008. A dedicated area for the preparation of loan material will ensure the safety of the thousands of objects brought into, and sent out of the Museum every year. Secure loading bays will provide direct access to the new special exhibition space, conservation and science facilities and the rest of the Museum.

Study collection storage

The world collection of the British Museum includes upwards of seven million artefacts. The majority of these objects comprise the study collection, objects which are not on permanent display for conservation reasons or because they are primarily an academic resource. On-site facilities to house the study collections will provide improved access for students, academics and the public, as well as modern, environmentally controlled systems able to maintain the stable conditions necessary for the preservation of objects.

RSHP’s proposal seeks to:

  • create a distinctive set of buildings that complement the architectural styles of the surrounding area and establishes a dialogue between the contemporary and historic architecture of Bloomsbury.
  • ensure that the new buildings are distanced from the Grade I listed façades with minimal interventions in the existing fabric, while creating a solid visual aesthetic that complements the King Edward VII Building
  • apply an order to the otherwise disparate nature of this area of the site and surrounding context.  The five linked pavilions – each of five storeys – are consistent in height with the North Range and one storey lower than the King Edward VII building. The mass and height of the pavilions provide a transition from the institutional scale of the King Edward VII building to the domestic scale of the properties in Bedford Square and Gower Street

The functional requirements of the brief are arranged vertically.  The Collections Storage Facility has been located below ground where the heavy floor loading can easily be accommodated and where the most stable environmental conditions can be found.  Above this sits the new logistic hub on Level 0, linking easily into the logistic routes of the existing museum.  The Special Exhibitions Gallery has been located at Level 2 (main gallery level in the Museum) in order to allow the best connectivity for the public and to enhance visitor experience. The conservation and science laboratories sit above the gallery in order to provide good quality daylight for conservation work as well as placing the requirement for flues, fume extraction and ventilation at the top of the building.