RSHP’s British Museum extension shortlisted for the Stirling Prize

20 July 2017

The British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the British Museum’s 260-year history. Designed by senior partner Graham Stirk, with partner John McElgunn as project architect, the building’s simple exterior belies the complexity of the site, and marks a new phase of the practice’s architectural output.

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ extension to the British Museum has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.

Speaking as the shortlist was announced, senior partner Graham Stirk said: “We are understandably delighted to be included on the shortlist. The national significance of the British Museum represented a challenging site within which to build a coherent, modern building. We aimed to create a building clear in both plan and section which are simply expressed to reinforce and contrast the formal historic context in which it sits. The resulting building represents a new aspect to our vocabulary; a form of contextual modernity, and we have been intellectually enriched by the whole experience.”

The building consists of five vertically linked pavilions (one of which is located entirely below ground) and the design is sensitive to the British Museum’s existing architecture, whilst maintaining its own contemporary identity. The Portland stone and kiln-formed glass used on the pavilions are inspired by the materials of the existing Museum and the shared façade subtly reveals activities within.

The conservation studios are housed at the top of pavilions, bringing the previously distributed department together and providing good quality daylight for detailed work.

The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery is located at the same level as the Great Court for easy public access. This gallery has replaced the Reading Room as the Museum’s largest temporary exhibition’s space; excellent new logistics connections allow the Museum host ever bigger and bolder exhibitions.

A large proportion of the new wing is underground, including the Collections Storage Facility, where the heavy floor loading requirements can easily be accommodated and the most stable environmental conditions can be found. A large lorry lift has been incorporated to service the WCEC and the wider estate, to ensure that large and fragile objects can now be moved in safe and controlled conditions.

Despite the energy hungry nature of the brief, the WCEC achieved BREEAM excellent by employing careful use of solar shading, energy consumption and preservation. Dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions from the laboratories have also been implemented.

The project architect, RSHP partner John McElgunn said: “Having the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre short listed for such a prestigious architectural award is a wonderful acknowledgment for the building.

This building is the missing jigsaw piece of the museum’s estate that focuses on the difficult 'behind the scenes' work and complex logistical requirements which are essential to the museum’s function.

Working very closely with the museum’s user groups we feel the WCEC solves a very difficult brief on a challenging site to create a contextual piece of modernism of which we are very proud.”

About Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners’ past Stirling Prize achievements

The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, which was completed in late 2014, is the 9th building by the practice to be included on the shortlist in the 22 years of its existence. RSHP has won two Stirling Prizes in the past; 2006, for Barajas Airport, and 2009, for the Maggie’s West London Centre.