Nearly 20 years ago, the Horniman Museum in South London expanded, and now they need to do so again.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens opened in 1901 as a gift to the people in perpetuity from tea trader and philanthropist Frederick John Horniman, to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’.

In 2002, they added a new entrance to one side, new galleries and more facilities, to cope with a predicted 250,000 visitors per year. They get nearly a million now, and the museum is bulging at the seams more forcefully than its famously overstuffed walrus.

Although the visitor numbers are up sharply, they worry that local demographic changes mean that visitor diversity has declined, and that puts pressure on fundraising.

Part of the difficulty in expanding the museum is that not only are the gardens and museum building listed but the area around them is designated as Metropolitan open land (MOL), making the construction of extra buildings difficult.

What they plan to do is to rebuild the Centre for Understanding the Environment (CUE) Building — that’s the 2002 extension with the plants on the roof.

If approved, then the building would be demolished and replaced with a subterranean space to take over its educational work, with a new arrivals square on top to make it a bit more obvious where the museum entrance is.

Finding the museum entrance is a surprisingly difficult thing to do since they moved it around the side from the main building — as the main building still looks very entrance like.

Creating a more obvious entrance should help alleviate that wayfinding issue. One loss though will be the long slope up the hill, as that’s to be replaced with steps and a lift instead. More accessible, which is good, but it does look as if it’ll constrain the view of the gardens from the street entrance.

The gardens will be revamped, some of the galleries relaid, and the cafe expanded.

Studio Egret West has been appointed as lead designer for the project, and there’s an exhibition at the museum at the moment showing off the plans.

They’ve still to raise the money for the plans though.


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  1. Adam Thompson says:

    Really sad to hear that Architype Architecture’s CUE building is to be demolished I put this building up the component parts being manufactured by my Step Father in Lyme Regis Dorset. It is a beautiful building with many innovative design features which unfortunately the Horniman Museum management have never understood the potential of or ever appreciated.

    • JP says:

      I feel for you. They’re not very complimentary about it on their “have your say” exhibition website either.
      It’s an example, it seems to me, of the building’s innovative and green credentials being turned through 180° and used to bash it down. Down so far that it’s to be replaced by a pavement with space underneath – one could say.
      I’ve not been there so this may be unfair comment itself but I have suffered a similar situation. My house was demolished and replaced by a pavement.
      At the very least we must hope that its replacement equals if not exceeds the level of consideration given to its environs and the environment that the CUE building exhibits/ed.

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