Plans to redevelop about a third of the British Museum building have taken a step forward with an invitation to architects to propose their designs.

Great Court of the British Museum (c) ianVisits

The western side of the Museum, where the redevelopment will take place, currently houses houses collections from Ancient Egypt, Greece (including the Parthenon Sculptures), Rome, Ancient Assyria, and the Middle East. Including the galleries, the redevelopment will encompass about a third of the British Museum’s space and significant back-of-house areas in one of the most ambitious projects of its kind.

As many visitors will confirm, once you look around the galleries, you’ll see they’re rather dated in appearance but also lack any decent air cooling systems that make them uncomfortably hot in summer and navigating your way around can be a bit of a mess.

The architectural competition marks a further step in the delivery of the Museum’s Masterplan, following the completion later this year of the new Archaeological Research Centre in Reading and planning approval for a new Energy Centre to be built – which will phase out the Museum’s use of fossil fuels.

The intention is that the museum will remain open throughout the rebuilding works, although individual galleries will have to close when there’s building work in them.

The winning team will need to submit a proposal that is both contemporary in its vision for presenting the collection for a modern visitor experience and sympathetic to the original Smirke building.

Due to the size and complexity of the Museum’s site and its Grade 1 listed building status, the competition’s purpose is not to find a final winning design. Instead, the judging panel is looking for an experienced and inspirational architect-led team to submit ideas and proposals to collaborate with the Museum and develop a final design.

A public display of the proposals by the shortlisted teams will take place this winter.

Chair of the British Museum, George Osborne said: “The British Museum is one of London’s great and most-visited landmarks – and like the city itself, it feels timeless as a space because it constantly evolves. Each generation makes its own contribution: two hundred years ago our forebears commissioned the great classical facade; a hundred years ago it was the King Edward VI building; a quarter of a century ago, it was the Great Court. Now our generation is calling out across the world, and across Britain, for an architectural practice with the imagination, the sympathy and the vision to help us rebuild and restore the most famous galleries of the museum, where our sculptures from Ancient Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia are displayed. In this home to the history of humanity, come help us – quite literally – build the future.”


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  1. Richard King says:

    I have read several reports of all our museums being short of money,so who will pay for the redesign? Maybe Tesco this time?, as Sainsburys shelled out for a previous one.

  2. Chris Rogers says:

    Oddly enough I actually walked round these same galleries for the first time a few months ago. There’s a real wealth of great objects there, including a vast temple frontage that’s housed in a double height gallery and some fabulous stone life-sized horses. The design is indeed dated – lots of hardwood, steel and concrete so from the 60s, 70s and early 80s – but it’s not really a barrier. Funding is attracting all the attention but the wider issues facing the museum are more relevant, as I discussed a while back:

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