It seems entirely appropriate that the
Plunging 20 metres beneath the streets of Bloomsbury, the complex is 70% below ground. It is the most mega of
Housed in four modular pavilions above ground, only one of which fronts on to the street, the project brings the museum's collection and conservation functions together on one site for the first time, along with a loading bay and a decent space for temporary exhibitions.
For an institution of such might, which last year loaned 5,000 objects to more than 300 venues, it has long operated in conditions worthy of a
The architecture has limited what the museum can borrow: on one occasion in 2008, a vast sculpture of emperor Antoninus - loaned from
In what the director,
The project is led by Rogers' partner
The elevations that are visible to the street are crisp, inoffensive and intentionally back-of-house. They pick up on the structural grid and cornice line of the adjacent Edwardian wing - itself a steel frame clad in stone - but strip everything back to its component parts. Wafer-thin planes of Portland stone and planks of cast glass hang like taut sheets of lined paper. Flanked by long panels of horizontal louvres, the pavilions look like scaled-up extraction vents, modern mechanical aids plugged into the folds of the neoclassical pile.
Within, they are indeed lean machines for the job at hand. The conservation studios, with natural light at the upper levels, are open, adaptable floors furnished with big tables on wheels. There are no dropped ceilings or raised floors, which can serve as hiding places for moths and other pests. All services are exposed in true Rogers style, for plug-and-play flexibility.
For the first time, it gives the museum the space to examine its collection in the right conditions, from the 11-metre-long Guavan canoe to the
"It's a nice change from our Georgian servants' basement," says
The glass-roofed atrium at WCEC and a freestanding staircase. 'We finally have the world-class facilities to work on our world-class collection,' said conservation officer
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