New London Architecture

City green-lights ‘spectacular’ Museum of London plans

Friday 26 June 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

The City of London this week approved the Museum of London’s £300m plans to create a ‘world-class cultural destination’ and learning centre in West Smithfield. Mayor Sadiq Khan said it promises to be ‘a spectacular addition’ to our capital’s cultural offering.

The scheme, first announced in 2015 and designed by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan with conservation work by Julian Harrap Architects, ‘promises to redefine what a museum can be’, said its backers, with wide-reaching benefits including:

  • Telling the story of London and Londoners in new and innovative ways, and creating an unmissable experience for its visitors;

  • Better displaying the unrivalled London Collection made up of 7m objects;

  • Reaching every school child in London and creating a world-class learning centre;

  •  Playing a key role in the City of London Corporation’s development of Culture Mile;

  • Supporting and championing local businesses through meaningful partnerships and joint opportunities;

  • Contributing to the wider regeneration of the Smithfield area

  • Creating the most sustainable museum and infrastructure possible.

Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London, said: “We are over the moon with today’s decision, which takes us one giant step closer to achieving our vision and moving forward with this ambitious, once-in-a-generation opportunity”

The project aims to open the doors of its new home in 2024 and represents a ‘secure, sustainable future’ for the historic market buildings that make up the site, most of which date back to the Victorian era and have fallen into disrepair. Much of the historic fabric of the buildings will be preserved to create what the Museum called ‘cavernous and atmospheric spaces’ both above and below ground, capable of hosting a broader range of displays, exhibitions, learning activity and events.

One of the largest cultural projects happening anywhere in Europe; it also aims to play a vital role in the London economy, working closely with best of the capital’s enterprise, creative and retail partners, and championing local creatives, businesses and talent.

The new Museum of London will play a key role in the City of London Corporation’s Culture Mile vision, a transformational initiative to create a ‘vibrant’ cultural area in the north-west corner of the City, which will significantly contribute to the wider revitalisation of Smithfield. 

In the first of a series of prepared statements at the news, Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London, said:

“The museum will be so much more than what you see today at our existing site. This is all because the market buildings themselves enable us to create a set of galleries, show spaces, meeting rooms, exhibitions, places to eat, to learn, to meet friends, to work, to delve into London’s past, present and even to imagine possible futures. We will open these extraordinary buildings bringing them back into public use, at a time when Londoners are yearning to better understand who we are and how our city has developed. We will reach every single school child in the city and share more of our incredible stories rooted in the London Collection – including the most pertinent issues that Londoners are facing today. In these extraordinary and challenging times we all now find ourselves in, we believe it is now more important than ever to help people connect with and understand both their past and their future.

We have been amazed by the amount of support we have received, from our closest partners to international enthusiasts and of course from Londoners themselves. I would like to pay a special thanks to the City of London Corporation and the Mayor of London for their unprecedented support and to the generosity of our Founding Partners; the Goldsmiths’ Company and its affiliated Charity, and the Linbury Trust.”

Alastair Moss, Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee at the City of London Corporation, said:

“The Museum of London’s plans for Smithfield Market represent a fantastic opportunity to sensitively revive these buildings and bring them back into use as an exciting and accessible destination for all of the City’s workers, residents and visitors to enjoy. Along with the promise of being an exceptional attraction in its own right, the museum is expected to bring with it many substantial economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits to the area. The new Museum of London will also play a pivotal role in Culture Mile, a vibrant cultural and creative area in the north-west corner of the Square Mile between Farringdon and Moorgate.”

Paul Williams OBE, Principal Director at Stanton Williams, said:

“This is a pivotal milestone not just for an ambitious architectural scheme for London, but also a testament to the vital importance that culture and education play for the evolution and resilience of our global city. Because London’s story is a story of renewal, reinvention and cultural diversity – a story that will be actively told by the Museum of London from its new home at West Smithfield for generations to come. Completing Culture Mile, the new museum will actively engage with its surroundings and communities and will bring new vibrancy to a historic, yet deteriorating part of the City. The Market Buildings, once a place for trading goods will become places for trading ideas; a democratic and inclusive arena for public life, performance, installation and debate, capturing the many voices of 21st-century London.”

Asif Khan, said:

“In front of the Museum of London Docklands stood a statue of slaver Robert Milligan. Just over a week ago it was removed. The recent protests across the globe for equality and respect of black lives, have called into question how we are taught our history and how then we understand our present.

It feels we are finally at a turning point, and to design a new museum at this moment, particularly one inside a Victorian market hall, is a great responsibility. It demands from us a vision of how we should shape our future city and citizenry.

Alongside the museum, we have taken the opportunity to create spaces and experiences, which re-characterise this building and this area, which promote shared values in a way which is open and which are inclusive to all Londoners and all perspectives, forever. To be involved in such an endeavour and to be one step closer to its completion is an honour for all of us.”

The Museum of London will now continue to work closely with the City of London Corporation to ensure that the necessary legal agreements are in place before works start next year.

The City of London Corporation has made an unprecedented investment into the project by putting forward £197 million of the £337 million needed to deliver the scheme. A substantial contribution of a capped £70m has also been made by the Mayor of London, which was announced in January 2017.

The Museum of London has continued in its fundraising efforts, securing a total of £27 million so far, leaving a further £43 million to raise before the project is delivered. It has already received donations of £10m from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and their affiliated Charity, £10m from the Linbury Trust and *initial support for £5m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Global law firm, DLA Piper, is the project’s inaugural Corporate Champion.

The site for the new Museum of London covers the General Market, Poultry Market and a suite of buildings known as The Annexe, which includes the Fish Market, Red House and Engine House. A Listed Building Consent Application for the Grade II-listed Poultry Market was also secured.

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


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