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.