The masterplan for the Imperial War Museum continues the practice’s work in adapting and revitalising London’s historically important buildings. The project involves the sensitive refurbishment of the existing museum, improving access and circulation, opening the interiors to daylight and views and establishing direct links with the surrounding park. The refurbishment is conceived to transform the visitor experience and is phased so that the opening of the first stage coincides with the centenary of the First World War.

Improving the museum’s setting in the park, the approach will be scooped out to create a single, accessible entrance for all below the existing portico stair. The new oval forecourt will become a public plaza, visually balancing the weight of the historic building and emphasising the Imperial War Museum as a contemporary institution, while retaining the integrity of the existing structure. The first phase of the masterplan has been completed – the floor of the new atrium has been lowered and the café and shop are repositioned at the new entrance level, rather than encroaching on the exhibition space. Externally, the sealed ground-floor windows along the western facade are reconfigured as colonnades, in keeping with the style of the former hospital building. These open directly onto the park, allowing the café seating to extend and potentially allowing these facilities to be used outside the museum’s opening hours.

The practice has developed a long-term strategy for the museum’s interior, based on three themes: ‘clarity and circulation’; ‘chronology’; and, ‘consolidation’. With visitor facilities consolidated at the base of the building, a new opening in the floor of the central hall visually connects the different levels and draws daylight deep into the spaces below. Vertical circulation is reconfigured to enable visitors to see and move more intuitively through the chronological arrangement of exhibition floors, which have been clearly re-named. A new gallery floor suspended beneath the dome at the top of the central atrium acts as a shading screen to protect the exhibits below from solar gain. In a future phase, the barrel vaulted roof will be re-clad with a high-performance envelope, and private ‘back of house’ facilities will be transformed into galleries for the display of the Museum’s extensive art collection. 

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 2010
  • Completion: 2014
  • Area: 22,500m²
  • Client: The Imperial War Museum
  • Structural Engineer: Buro Happold
  • Quantity Surveyor: Turner and Townsend
  • M+E Engineer: Buro Happold
  • Lighting Engineer: George Sexton Associates
  • Additional Consultants: Jonas Deloitte, Jonas Deloitte, Sandy Brown, Buro Happold, Alan Baxter & Associates LLP, Court Catering Equipment Ltd., Scott White and Hookins, Centre for Accessible