Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) the newly completed British Museum's World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre is a key piece in the institution's significant extension scheme - which includes the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, unveiled in March.
The new centre was commissioned in 2007, as a response to the museum's growing needs, both in terms of exhibition space and the protection and upkeep its collection. Now, the museum will have ample and suitably state-of-the-art spaces to store, conserve, study and display its pieces. 'For the first time ever, facilities are properly adapted to the needs of the museum,' says British Museum director Neil MacGregor. This project, which has been almost four years in the making, is not only aiming to highlight the renowned museum as a world leader of exhibitions, but also conservation and study of historical artefacts.
Located in the Bloomsbury complex's northwest corner, the building is set to greatly improve the museum's on site operations. 'Our main task was to solve issues that developed in the museum over the past few years,' explains RSHP's Graham Stirk. The site's preparation began in 2010 and the carefully executed construction work - sensitive to the existing buildings and the museum's irreplaceable collection nearby, and managed by Mace - is now reaching completion, with the final touches currently being added.
Its nine levels (about half of which are nestled underground) include naturally lit conservation rooms, laboratories, studios, offices and extensive modernised services and facilities to support all the various functions. Its truck lift for example, is one of the largest in Europe, while its environmentally controlled storage areas span approximately 5,100 sq m.
True to the practice's tradition, the building features exposed services and is created in a contemporary style, one however, that respects its historical neighbours. 'Yes, we were [intimidated by the context],' says Stirk. But the team worked towards maintaining the street's proportions, breaking down the addition's volume into smaller pavilions, clad in kiln-formed glass and Portland stone as a response to the area's existing material palette.
The British Museum's extension is a thoughtful addition to an iconic London neighbourhood, responding sympathetically to the rhythm and coloration of its surroundings; and developments are still ongoing. Future plans include a green roof across the pavilions, which will include bird nesting boxes and two beehives.