After long outgrowing its island-like location within the London Wall roundabout next to the Barbican, the Museum of London is gearing up to move to a new home at West Smithfield, where it hopes to double visitor numbers. After a tumultuous battle regarding the future of the 25,000 sq m site in question, which also houses the historic Smithfield meat market, a competition was launched, calling for submissions to imagine the museum’s new space.
The winner has now been announced, with Stanton Williams and Asif Khan granted the auspicious commission. Their vision – a sharp, contemporary design which acknowledges the extant tactile power of the existing West Smithfield space – includes a new listed landmark dome; innovative spiral escalators connecting the ground level with an excavated underground chamber; and a new sunken garden and other green spaces.
Says Paul Williams, director of Stanton Williams: 'Encountering the historic market spaces for the first time in early April this year, we were "blown away" by the power and physicality already existing, and knew then, that whatever scheme we developed, this physicality needed to be harnessed, and not lost, and that initial observation has inspired our initial design proposals. This project will engage a broad community well beyond London.'
Proposals were submitted by six teams in all, featuring an array of internationally renowned firms. These also included Bjarke Ingels Group, Caruso St John, Lacaton & Vassal Architectes, Diener & Diener and Studio Milou. Their early-stage design concepts remain on display in an exhibition at the Museum of London until 11 September.
BIG collaborated with Hawkins\Brown, Donald Insall and Gehl Architects to propose a large cantilevered vitrine which stretches out over the street below. Caruso St John Architects partnered with Alan Baxter Associates to present a clean and refined scheme, which proposed the insertion of a series of pavilions within the space.
Meanwhile, Swiss firm Diener & Diener Architekten, Sergison Bates Architects, East Architecture and Graphic Thought Facility envisioned a wire-framed rooftop reconstruction of the site's once-existing cupola. Lacaton & Vassal Architects, Pernilla Ohrstedt Studio, Allies and Morrison and Alan Baxter Associates opted to preserve the context and integrity of the site with as little intervention as possible. Finally, French firm Studio Milou collaborated with RL& Associés, Axis Architects and Alan Baxter Associates to propose a structure which included a giant mirror adorning the museum entrance.
The shortlist of entries was judged by a panel of well-known figures from the fields of the arts, property, media, architecture and business, chaired by BBC television and radio presenter Evan Davis. Each proposal was selected due to its high quality of design and innovative nature, while taking cues from the existing structure and urban context.
Of the winning entry, Davies states that, 'After a lot of discussion, a clear winner emerged. Stanton Williams and Asif Khan offered some really innovative thinking, and managed to combine a sensitivity to the heritage of the location, with a keen awareness of the practicalities of delivering a really functional museum.'
Stanton Williams and Asif Khan will now work alongside the museum to refine their ideas, ensuring that the design is sensitively carried out through the historic site. Formal planning will be submitted in 2018, with the completion date mooted for 2022.