The British Museum has signed a sponsorship agreement with the energy firm BP worth £50 million over ten years as it embarks on a major refurbishment of the museum buildings. The funding contributes to a renovation plan that’ll see the building brought up to modern standards in terms of operating costs while also redesigning some of the gallery rooms.
It will however be a controversial donation and likely to provoke protests from climate activists who seek to block museums and galleries from accepting donations from energy companies.
More donations are likely to be needed in the future though, as the museum works through a multi-decade refurbishment of the buildings. Apart from the huge intervention in the centre when the Great Court opened and the extension at the rear, there’s only been occasional piecemeal works in individual galleries to redecorate them. Anyone who has visited in summer will know it can be quite uncomfortable in some of the galleries, so the museum needs to redevelop its galleries and back-of-house facilities.
Completion of the first phase of the Masterplan will be marked by the official opening of the new British Museum Archaeological Research facility in June 2024, housing items ranging from nails from the Sutton Hoo ship burial to Peruvian fabrics and ancient fingerprints preserved on 5000-year-old antler picks. It’ll offer a different approach to museum storage by facilitating research and study by academics and members of the public alike.
Alongside this, designs for a new £40 million Energy Centre have been submitted to Camden Council. They will see the phasing out of fossil fuels within the Museum’s estate, replacing them with low-carbon technologies. Funding for the plans received a significant boost, with the government having committed financial support for building the Energy Centre.
The new Energy Centre will sit in the northeastern corner of the museum estate, replacing a cluster of back-of-house buildings that squash into a former back garden of the Georgian houses that lines the eastern side of the museum on Montague Street. The replacement East Road Building (ERB) will allow the museum to upgrade its elderly gas-powered heating and energy supply and also improve some of the staff facilities currently based in some temporary sheds.
Plans for an international architectural competition to redevelop some of the western galleries that currently house collections such as Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome have also been announced, with the winner expected to be announced next year.
The intention is that the museum will remain open throughout the works, although individual galleries will have to close when there’s building work in them.
The works on the western wing, which houses the Parthenon Sculptures, would give the museum a viable excuse that they need to move somewhere else, if only temporarily, and maybe somewhere overseas would like to have them on loan.
Charlie Mayfield, Chair of the British Museum’s Masterplan committee, said: “Next year we will begin the process of completely overhauling our outdated energy infrastructure and replacing it with state-of-the-art facilities that will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and we will begin a global search amongst leading architects to find a partner to help us reimagine the famous Western Range. There’s so much to look forward to in 2024 and we are grateful to all our partners for their support.”