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Smithsonian stalls on Olympicopolis move

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Doubts have emerged over the Smithsonian Institution’s move to East London’s Olympicopolis in East London, masterplanned by a team led by Allies and Morrison

The Washington-based museum is in negotiations with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) about a move to a new 3,750m² building within the new cultural quarter on the Queen Elizabeth Park.

But this week, the Smithsonian board delayed a decision on the move due to uncertainty over the costs involved.

The project, which would be the first for the museum outside of the US, is being understood to be under review following the appointment of David J Skorton as secretary in July last year.

A statement from the Smithsonian said: ‘Secretary Skorton said that he did not ask the Board of Regents to take action on the Smithsonian’s presence in London because “we have not completed our due diligence,” which includes completing a thorough review of capital and operating costs, the nature of the programming in our space, and the sources of funding.’

However, Skorton added that he remains enthusiastic about the project but wants to be ‘especially careful’ about planning due to the long-term nature of the project.

A final decision is expected before the next full regents meeting scheduled for June.

A spokesman for LLDC played down fears that the delay meant that the Smithsonian was getting cold feet about the project.

He said: ‘We are working very closely with them to make this a reality, but they have to make the business case stack up. I think they still want to come.

‘We have been providing them with data and how the designs are developing. We are making excellent progress with the Allies and Morison team and are keeping the Smithsonian fully abreast of the design process.’

The designs for the East London park’s new huge cultural and education quarter hve been drawn up by a team led by Allies and Morrison with including RIBA Gold Medal winners O’Donnell + Tuomey, emerging Spanish talent Arquitecturia, and landscape architects Gustafson Porter.

The Washington-based museum is considering a gallery space at Olympicopolis focused on America’s history and contribution to science.

Olympicopolis masterplan - plans for a new Smithsonian building are now in doubt

Olympicopolis masterplan - plans for a new Smithsonian building are now in doubt

Proposed buildings labelled


Around 75,000m² will be included in two 30 and 40 storey towers. 

Sadler’s Wells 

The new venue will include a 600-seat theatre alongside a choreography school, a hip hop academy, and flexible spaces for research, development, and production of dance works. 

UAL’s London College of Fashion 

This is planned to build on the college’s East End heritage creating an fashion cluster for education, research, and enterprise. 


The new East London outpost for the museum is set to be a ‘new kind of civic building’ with spaces for the V&A’s collections, learning, contemporary design practice, conservation, and research. 

Smithsonian - now in doubt

The Washington-based museum is set to open a 3,750m² gallery space focused on America’s history and contribution to science. 


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