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Competition: Past Time galleries, Museum of London

The Museum of London is recruiting a team to design a subterranean gallery within its new £180 million West Smithfield headquarters (Deadline: 29 April)

The winning team will create a Past Time exhibition within the ‘vast, atmospheric’ vaults (pictured) beneath the historic 1883 General Market building in West Smithfield, which Stanton Williams and Asif Khan are transforming into a new home for the museum.

The £7.5 million project is the first gallery to be commissioned for the venue which will contain a collection of over six million items showcasing a 2,000-year-history of London. The 2,500m² subterranean gallery could be the only such space in the world displaying a live railway as Thameslink passes through part of the site.

The General Market undercroft

The General Market undercroft

The General Market undercroft

The exhibition will explore London in Time, London Life, and The Physical City, while also featuring the Cheapside Hoard, a collection of 16th and 17th-century jewellery discovered in 1912.

The museum said it wanted teams to ‘put forward designs for an object-rich, narrative-driven, immersive, theatrical and interactive display. The objects on display will be drawn from the London Collection – ranging from the remains of some of the most ancient Londoners to costume, social and working history to art and photography.’

Stanton Williams and Asif Khan, working with conservation expert Julian Harrap, won the contest to design the museum’s new home in July 2017.

It will be constructed on the 25,000m² West Smithfield site, which comprises a series of vacant, mostly Victorian, buildings. The plans involve retaining many of these buildings, including a dome. It is scheduled to open in 2024.

The existing Smithfield Market, which traces its history back nearly a thousand years, will continue unaffected by the proposals.

Proposed new Museum of London by Stanton Williams with Asif Khan, Julian Harrap, J&L Gibbons and Plan A

Proposed new Museum of London by Stanton Williams with Asif Khan, Julian Harrap, J&L Gibbons and Plan A

Proposed new Museum of London by Stanton Williams with Asif Khan, Julian Harrap, J&L Gibbons and Plan A

Plans to transform the current Museum of London site into a £288 million concert hall by New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro were unveiled in January.

The design contract will cover exhibition lead design, 3D design, lighting design, graphic design, and the concept design of mechanical interactive exhibits. A shortlist will be selected this summer prior to the announcement of an overall winner.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 29 April

Contact details

Museum of London
150 London Wall


View the contract notice for more information

Q&A with Alec Shaw and Annette Day

The project director of the New Museum of London at Smithfield and head of exhibitions and displays discuss their ambitions for the competition

Alec Shaw and Annette Day

Alec Shaw and Annette Day

Alec Shaw and Annette Day

Why are your holding an international search for an exhibition design team?

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconceive what a museum for London can be. We want to attract the best, most inspired talent out there to work with us to stretch the possibilities of what a museum can be and to create displays worthy of this extraordinary, compelling city of ours. Our ambition is to create a museum that represents the openness of the city to all and that is appealing and meaningful for the diverse population of London and for visitors from many different parts of the UK and the world. We are involving Londoners in the process, to help us create displays that are truly London and like no other.

The ‘Past Time’ displays are large and will be rich with objects and complex in their stories and interpretation. We therefore decided to launch this competition first, as they will require the longest period of content and design development.

West Smithfield Museum of London site

West Smithfield Museum of London site

Source: Image by News Wire David Parry

West Smithfield Museum of London site

What is your vision for the new ‘Past Time’ galleries?

The ‘Past Time’ displays will be located in 2,500 sqm of cavernous and atmospheric space beneath the currently dilapidated General Market building in West Smithfield. They will be object-rich, narrative, theatrical and interactive displays - full of human drama over 10,000 years of history in London. They will draw on the extraordinary breadth of the London Collection, an astounding resource of over seven million objects, from skeletons to dress, working history to art and photography. We want to connect with visitors in many different ways, to support curiosity and learning, stimulate all the senses, inspire activity and provoke imagination, emotion and empathy – all of which will require innovative approaches, creative collaboration with us and others, and imaginative design and experience creation. We are also looking for designers who can play an active role with respect to sustainability, to support our high aspirations in this respect for the project.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

This ambitious project requires an outstanding and inspired exhibition design team. Collectively this team needs to deliver exceptional design, with consideration of audiences at its heart. Choreography of architecture and content, creative presentation of objects and intangible heritage, development of theatrical environments and exhibits that encourage active engagement, and powerful physical and visual storytelling will all be critical. We are encouraging formal or informal partnerships that offer a diverse range of creative practice, skills and perspectives. We are also interested in companies and partnerships that would contribute to the social and economic impact of the project and be committed to making a tangible difference in London through their involvement – in how they would work and with whom, how they would connect with London, and the opportunities they would offer for Londoners. We are particularly interested in the involvement of diverse emerging talent and SMEs and are seek companies that are innovative in their approach to this.

The General Market undercroft

The General Market undercroft

The General Market undercroft

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

There will be a number of other design opportunities over the coming years, from two or three other major display areas to retail and café spaces and site-specific installations. These will all be procured through open competitions, on a range of scales.

Are there any other recent submerged gallery space projects you have been impressed by?

We have been carrying out research trips to see how other museum or buildings have designed similar type of spaces. They are quite rare especially with a real train line running through the space. We will take inspiration where we find it, but want to forge something distinctive and fundamentally London in character and spirit.


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