British Museum celebrates progress on the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre

With less than a year to go until the first exhibition opens in the new exhibitions gallery, the British Museum today reveals the extent of progress on the construction of its new capital project, the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC). Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) and constructed by Mace, the new Centre will cement the British Museum’s reputation as a world leader in the exhibition, conservation, examination and analysis of cultural objects from across the globe. The WCEC will enable the Museum to build on current successes, to store, conserve, study and display the collection for the future.

Located in the north-west corner of the Museum’s Bloomsbury estate, the WCEC is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the Museum’s 260 year history. The Centre will provide a new public exhibitions gallery, state-of-the-art laboratories and studios, world class stores for the collection, as well as facilities to support an extensive UK and international loan programme. This will rationalise and greatly improve the Museum’s operations on-site, and modernise facilities ‘behind the scenes’ and will allow the Museum to extend support to UK and International partners in terms of increasing capacity for staff training and joint projects.

The building consists of five pavilions (one of which is submerged below the ground) and the design is sensitive to the British Museum’s existing architecture, connecting to the historic building whilst maintaining its own identity. The exhibitions gallery is due to open in early March 2014 with a new exhibition devoted to the Vikings (supported by BP). It is anticipated the conservation studios, science laboratories, loans hub and stores will be fitted out and occupied by summer 2014.

The total cost of the project is £135 million and over four fifths of the total cost has been raised. The Linbury Trust, established by John Sainsbury (Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG), and the Monument Trust, established by Simon Sainsbury have together committed £25 million towards the project, one of the largest gifts to the arts in the UK in recent decades, which will be used to fund the exhibition gallery. The Heritage Lottery Fund has committed £10 million towards the project. Other significant benefactors include the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation and the family of Constantine Leventis, the Clothworkers’ Foundation, the Fidelity U.K. Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, the Band Trust and others as well as continued support from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (worth £22.5 million over 4 years). A fundraising campaign by the British Museum Members is underway.

Announcing progress on the project, British Museum Director Neil MacGregor said “The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre will provide world class facilities that will allow the British Museum to ensure the care of its collections for future generations.The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery will enable us to continue to present exhibitions on the scale of First Emperor and Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The new Collections Management Hub will also mean that the Museum is even better equipped to manage loans to and from the Museum continuing and expanding our efforts to share the collection with partners around the UK and the world.”

Architect Graham Stirk, Senior Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners said “We are immensely proud to be involved in the latest significant step in the 260 year development of the British Museum estate. The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre represents a vitally important combination of a purpose-built exhibition gallery and a celebration of the amazing behind-the-scenes activities. These facilities will be contained in a bespoke 21st century building that provides the next stage of the museum’s evolution.”

Jonathan Foster, Business Unit Director of Major Projects at Mace said “Mace has been involved in some of London’s most iconic developments including the Great Court at the British Museum and so we were excited to be appointed by the Museum again to construction manage this highly prestigious architectural scheme. With construction remaining on schedule, the WCEC will provide important new facilities for the Museum and is a development Mace is proud to be a key part of.”

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Further information
At approximately 18,000sqm, the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre will provide four key functions:

1. The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery:
Over the last six years the Museum has established a strong reputation for housing large-scale, important exhibitions which allow visitors to deepen their understanding of world cultures. The Centre will build on this success, including a a purpose built special exhibitions gallery of approximately 1,100sqm. The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallerywill open in March 2014 with a major exhibition on the Vikings (supported by BP). The centrepiece will be a the remains of a 37m Viking ship – an extraordinary object the Museum could not have considered displaying without this new space. The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery will ensure a better visitor experience in terms of comfort, interpretation and design.

The exhibitions gallery is situated in pavilions 2 - 4 and will be publically accessible via the north side of the Great Court.

2. Conservation Studios and Science Laboratories:
Museum conservators and scientists work to conserve the collection for present and future generations and to provide insights into the past through research centred on examination and analysis of objects. Conservation and scientific research activities at the Museum have expanded enormously over the past 40 years, with the advent of new technology, improved techniques and broader professional expertise. The WCEC will include state-of-the-art studios, laboratories and equipment for conservation and scientific research, which will allow the Museum not only to improve and extend the care and study of its own collection, but also to offer support to our UK and International partners through increased capacity for staff training and joint projects. A particular feature of the new facilities is that they will permit the Museum to undertake the treatment and examination of large-scale objects, from the Michelangelo cartoon, through wooden canoes, coffins and totem poles to complex sculptures or large assemblages such as coin hoards.

The science laboratories will be housed principally in the fifth pavilion, with equipment and activities that are sensitive to vibration located at the lowest basement level. Other laboratories and offices will surround a day lit atrium, while the conservation studios will be situated at the top of pavilions 1–4 to make maximum use of natural light.

3. Storage
The collection is the cornerstone of the Museum. The WCEC will include world-class, environmentally controlled stores (approximately 4,500sqm) to house the study collection and to allow greater access to this material. The Museum currently stores its collections across three sites in London: at the main site in Bloomsbury and in two off-site locations. The new Centre will enable the Museum to bring more of the collection back to the Bloomsbury site, including the majority of fragile and sensitive organic material. New on-site facilities will provide improved access to the collections, as well as modern, environmentally controlled systems able to maintain the stable conditions necessary for the preservation of these objects. Each level of storage will have a study room where objects can be seen and studied. The stores will house over 200,000 objects from the Africa, Oceania and Americas Department and stone inscriptions and archaeological fragments from the Department of Greece and Rome.

4. Collections hub
The British Museum is committed to lending the collection as widely as possible. The Centre will feature a centralised object handling facility with dedicated truck lift, loading bay and associated packing, unpacking and work spaces for the receipt and despatch of objects. Within the Centre, objects will be managed centrally, allowing the safer and more efficient transfer of the many thousands of objects brought into and sent out of the Museum each year. A bespoke truck lift (one of the largest in Europe) accessed from Montague Place will facilitate the transfer of objects and secure loading bays will provide direct access to the new exhibitions gallery, conservation and science storage and to the rest of the Museum. Also included in this area is a dedicated suite of isolation and treatment rooms to prevent insect pests entering and damaging the collection.

Building work and timeline
Work in the WCEC site began in December 2010. After a period of demolition work to clear the area, and the excavation of approximately 37,000m³ of material, the construction of the building’s four basement levels began. The installation of the steel frame commenced in the autumn 2012, and in February 2013 the project celebrated ‘Topping Out’, marking the point at which the roof was on the building. Inside the new Centre the installation of block work walls and of the mechanical and electrical services has progressed over the last several months. Current site activity includes installation of the building’s façade, the installation of the truck lift and fit out of the exhibitions gallery. Installation of building services continues throughout all levels, along with completion of the lift and stair cores. With the exterior and technical design elements broadly in place, the Museum’s recent focus has been on the design of the interiors and fit-out of the new building, which will commence in late 2013.

December 2010 – Demolition works began
Autumn 2011 – Construction of basement levels commences
Autumn 2012 – Construction above ground level begins
Autumn 2013 – Construction complete
Autumn 2013 – Installation of furniture and equipment
Early 2014 – Start to move into building
March 2014 – First exhibition opens in new gallery

The constantly changing site has been recorded through the work of the project artist-in-residence Liam O’ Connor. Liam has been documenting the site since work began in December 2010 and has developed two major drawings. One is an evolving view of the site throughout construction and the other is a drawing of the excavation work; a view of the site as one vast space revealed during the construction process.

About RSHP
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) is an award-winning, international architectural practice based in London. Over three decades, RSHP has attracted critical acclaim with innovative projects across Europe, North America and Asia. RSHP employs around 180 people in offices in London, Shanghai and Sydney. A democratic philosophy is employed at every level, to enable all staff to collaborate and contribute their individual expertise. This collegiate approach to the work of the practice is embodied in a constitution that consciously brings a social dimension to work and takes the form of, among other initiatives, a staff profit-sharing scheme and significant contributions to charity.

For further information visit: Media contact: Robert Fiehn – Media and Client Coordinator / +44 (0)20 7746 0237

About Mace
Mace is an international consultancy and construction company employing over 3,700 people, across five continents with a turnover of £1bn. Mace’s business is programme and project management, cost consultancy, construction delivery and facilities management and is truly multi-disciplinary with services spanning the entire property and infrastructure lifecycle. Mace has three strategic sectors serving clients in the private, public and infrastructure sectors and five strategic hubs in Europe, Middle East & North Africa, the Americas, Asia Pacific and Sub-Sahara Africa that service over 70 countries.

For more information visit: Media contacts: Alexandra Best – PR Coordinator Mace. / +44 (0)20 3522 3243

Information on donors

Linbury and Monument Trusts

For further information regarding the Linbury and Monument Trusts, please visit their websites:

Heritage Lottery Fund
Funding from HLF will provide vital facilities and resources which will enable the Museum to expand its innovative outreach and public engagement. Funding from HLF will create an extensive programme of activities involving visitors, volunteers and community groups, including tours of the conservation studios and science laboratories and object handling sessions around new special exhibitions. HLF’s support will also underpin improvements to the Museum’s public digital resources, and put object conservation live on the internet for the first time.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK.

For more information:
Media contact: Katie Owen, HLF press office, on tel: 020 7591 6036.