Somerset House has announced a major architectural contest for a £50 million auditorium at the Grade I-listed building in central London
The two-stage competition – organised by Colander on behalf of the Somerset House Trust – will select an architect to deliver a new sunken 700-capacity venue between the New Wing and West Wing of the William Chambers-designed 18th-century building.
The project, planned to complete in 2024, will replace an outdated 1960s conference centre with a new flexible and ‘dynamic forum’ larger than any other events space within the Neoclassical former government complex and will also include a new courtyard-level public space.
Purcell has already completed a feasibility study for the scheme.
The competition brief says: ‘This project marks a pivotal moment in the remarkable change that has taken place over the last twenty years, transforming Somerset House from a series of government offices into a pioneering working arts centre and a groundbreaking cultural eco-system.
‘The new venue will be a place where up to 700 people can see, hear and experience in different configurations work by all kinds of artists directly in the heart of London, with many thousands more enjoying it through live streaming, recording and online access. Over the top of the new venue there is a fantastic opportunity to create a new public space and bring to life a key part of the site’s history and heritage.’
Somerset House was designed in 1776 to replace an earlier riverside palace owned by the Duke of Somerset. The enormous building hosted various government departments and learned societies before being transformed in phases into a cultural centre.
Dixon Jones drew up a masterplan for the site in 1998 and transformed its quadrangle, which had been used as car park, into a water feature and events area. The practice also created a River Terrace Café while Donald Insall Associates completed a major overhaul of the south building.
The latest project will transform the area between the New Wing and West Wing which is known as West Street and currently features a conference centre and service yard.
Up to seven shortlisted teams will each receive £2,000 and be invited to attend interviews to explain their design approach. Applications will be evaluated 70 per cent on quality and 30 per cent on deliverability.
A winning team is expected to be announced by the end of the year. The deadline for applications is midday, 11 September.