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A New Museum for London pt I

Updated: Feb 13

Friday, 7th February 2020

On Friday, a group of City Architecture Forum (CAF) Members were fortunate enough to tour the Museum of London’s new home at the historic West Smithfield. A planning application to support the relocation from the Museum’s current site at London Wall was submitted during December 2019 led by Stanton Williams Architects.

Paul Williams (Stanton Williams) explains the design process of the new museum site

Sharon Ament, the Director of the Museum of London (MoL) introduced her vision for the proposals from her appointment in September 2012 and how she had shared her passion for a new location with improved access for all.

Paul Williams of Stanton Williams, the lead architects and designers of the MoL then explained how the design proposals evolved and how the project expanded into the Poultry Market.

The application site itself comprises four buildings; the General Market, the Poultry Market, the Annexe and Engine House located within the northern section of the City of London (CoL) within Smithfield Market. The site itself is bound by Farringdon Road to the west, Charterhouse Street to the north, and West Smithfield to the south.

To the east of the site lies the Smithfield Central Market which is made up of the East and West Markets. The Annexe is the collective name for the Fish Market, Iron Mountain and Red House buildings, separated from the Engine House by Smithfield Street. The Annexe and Engine House buildings are a CoL Corporation development and will be a mixture of retail (A1-A4), office (B1) and cultural/leisure uses (D1-D2).

General Market

Whilst the General Market and Annexe and Engine House have been largely derelict since 1999 and 1983 respectively, a small number of traders are still seen to operate within the Poultry Market. Sales of meat, poultry, oils and cheese operates from 02:00-08:00 on weekdays within the East and West Markets.

The development proposals for the General and Poultry Market are museum-led (D1) land uses, supported with ancillary café and restaurant (A3) and back of house office (B1) uses.

West Poultry Avenue lies between the two market buildings, and will form the main entrance for the new Museum. This forms the destination entrance, connecting visitors from

street level and presents a “Real Time” environment where visitors are immersed into the Museum from the living, breathing city streets outside.

During the tour, CAF members learnt of how the General Market ground floor will represent the period “Our Time” encapsulating London from 1945 to today; where history becomes living memory. This large open space will be occupied by programming events as well with visitor attractions such as restaurants and cafes.

Beneath this at basement level the General Market basement “Past Time” exhibitions will focus around purposeful permanent galleries, illustrating London’s story from the beginning until around 1945.

Within the Poultry Market at basement level, visitors drop into “Deep Time”; this open and active London collection is held for research. The Poultry Market ground floor will be occupied by the contemporary “Show Time” where 2-3 temporary exhibition galleries will be displayed a year. Above this lies “Imagined Time” on the first floor encompassing London’s influence worldwide for example through the works of JK Rowling and Charles Dickens.

The development proposals for the General and Poultry Market are museum-led (D1) land uses, supported with ancillary café and restaurant (A3) and back of house office (B1) uses.

West Poultry Avenue which will be the main entrance for staff and visitors alike

From the project’s conception, the Museum’s desires were to provide a permeable and connective space for users. The MoL offices at the new site are designed to open straight onto the public area, providing a unique opportunity to dissolve the barriers between visitors and Museum staff. As a result, there is no staff entrance proposed; staff and visitors alike will come in through West Poultry Avenue, reflective of how different groups are already interacting on the streets of London around the site.

Within the outer ‘crust’ of the General Market, individual units referred to as the Houses will provide a range of flexible uses; A1-A4, B1 and D1-D2. A coach drop-off space will be provided on East Poultry Avenue in line with key aspirations of the Museum to increase school visits to the new site as an active learning destination.

The Museum’s relocation to West Smithfield can be seen as a catalyst for renewal with significant public realm improvements planned for the Smithfield area. The Culture Mile proposals are a joint initiative through the City of London Corporation, Museum of London, London Symphony Orchestra, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Barbican looks to provide “an unrivalled visitor experience” through significant public realm improvements such as greening, wayfinding and public art from Farringdon to Moorgate. Furthermore, introduction of Crossrail services at Farringdon station will further increase pedestrian footfall around the site.

“If we can get MoL to be more like London it will be the best Museum in London as it will connect with all people” said Sharon Ament and her passion for the vision and delivery of this world-class development was clear for us all to see.

Words & Images: Roy McGowan

City Architecture Forum member,

Momentum Transport Consultancy

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