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Rogers' British Museum extension plans revealed

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) has revealed its long-awaited design for the £135 million extension to the British Museum in London

The 17,000m² project, facing Montagu Place in the north-west corner of the museum site, will house conservation laboratories, a logistics hub for moving collections and storage areas spread over seven levels – three below ground.

The only part of the new ‘five pavilion’ scheme open to the public will be a 1,000m² special exhibition space, which will replace the Reading Room as the home for temporary shows.

Due to be submitted to Camden Council for planning later this month, the scheme is the largest development of the museum complex since Foster + Partners’ reworking of the Great Court in 2000. It will sit next to the Grade I-listed King Edward VII galleries, designed by JJ Burnet and completed in 1914.

It has taken nearly two years since RSHP first won the project in May 2007, ahead of the likes of David Chipperfield, Bennetts Associates and Stanton Williams, for the final designs to emerge.

Following discussions with CABE, English Heritage and local conservation groups, an original heavily glazed proposal made way for a more ‘restrained’ cast glass and stone facade over a ‘delicate’ steel frame.

Project architect Graham Stirk said: ‘The plan form had always been a series of Kahn-esque staggered pavilions, but the language has evolved. Initially we had very consistent columns with a series of suspended volumes under big curved soffits.

‘But people got worked up by the amount of glazing and the special exhibition team wanted a [closed] black box that could house lighting rigs.’

Stirk said the scheme now balanced ‘monumentality with transparency and delicacy’.

He added: ‘The designs have a sense of solidity, but with the cast glass you’ll see the activity inside, with glimpses into a private world with people in white coats working on collections. It is working in a quiet way… but at night it will be amazingly vibrant.’

The building, which will use modular off-site construction, is expected to open in late 2012.

Delicate or dull? Read Kieran Long’s take on the British Museum extension

Readers' comments (5)

  • This dull building will require the demolition of a charming row of 18th century houses. I hope it never goes ahead.

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  • A subtle, quality piece of architecture. It is very refined and it does enough to have quality in it's own right without overshadowing the existing museum. It is good, without showboating.

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  • In reply to the first comment, no 18th century buildings will be demolished to make way for this new building. The two townhouses on Montague were constructed in the 1970's as copies of Georgian townhouses and have no age at all

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  • We should stop being shy of placing modern architecture alongside older styles. Especially when the work is of the high quality which the RSHP design very clearly is. We should also recognise the British Museum's need to create functional spaces essential to its ability to maintain its world class service across all of its operations.

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  • I think the scheme that Rogers are proposing should be commended. Its expression along the streetscape appears sympathetic to the existing. The restraint of its overall form, suggests that Rogers will have something interesting up their sleeve for the detailing of this building. I can't wait to see it!

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