This summer, a striking new pavilion opens at the entrance of the Museum of London
, as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2014. House of Muses, which is conceived as the pillar of an imagined lost cathedral, offers visitors a chance to share their thoughts to help shape the future of the museum.
The temporary installation was commissioned in collaboration between the Museum of London and The Architecture Foundation, who sought a design team that could create a structure for contemplation about the physical transformation of the museum. GRUPPE, a London/Zurich-based practice, were the decided winners from an international competition which attracted over 70 entries.
Their winning design was chosen by an expert jury panel consisting of Oliver Wainwright, The Guardians architecture critic; Hannah Lawson, Director at John McAslan and Partners; and Vicky Richardson, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion, at the British Council; along with representatives from The Architecture Foundation and the Museum of London.
GRUPPE was inspired by the historical fragments of the city, and in particular by the tower of St Alban. This church in nearby Wood Street in the City of London was badly damaged during the Second World War, with only its tower surviving the post-war clearance. Rather than the more modest church of which it was actually a part, GRUPPE imagined the tower as a remnant of a monumental cathedral stretching as far as the entrance to the museum today. Its plywood installation, rendered with Hayles and Howes plasterwork and scagliola, is a pillar of this imagined lost cathedral. It deliberately reflects the past in its shape and in the craftsmanship of its surfaces, while acting as a place to consider the future.
Inside the installation, visitors are asked to share their thoughts on the museums transformation. They can pick the word which they think should represent the museum and its building, along with their own ideas and sketches. For added inspiration, a viewing platform allows visitors to gain a different perspective on the museum and its environs. Using #HouseofMuses the public can also submit their ideas on Twitter @MuseumofLondon.
As the literal Greek translation for "museum", which the English word derives from, the House of Muses title nods to the setting of its installation. House is indicative of the temporary structure which visitors are able to physically enter and, in effect, become the muses themselves.
David Spence, Director of Transformation at the Museum of London, said: We want our visitors to tell us what they think a museum for London should be like so their voice can be heard in our future development plans. This installation provides a great opportunity for our public to reflect on the qualities a building and a place that represents Londons history should have, and feedback their thoughts. Transforming a museum is an exciting process and we want to share this with Londoners. We expect to develop our plans over the coming months and to consider what options to pursue during the course of 2014.
Simon Allford, Chairman of The Architecture Foundation, said: GRUPPEs playful temporary structure is an ideal venue to host discussions and gather feedback about the future visions for this important museum. It is a pleasure to be able to partner with the Museum of London for this and contribute to the London Festival of Architecture 2014.
Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Christoph Junk, Directors of GRUPPE, said: The structure is situated in a busy thoroughfare at one of Londons most layered and intense city experiences. The exterior of the structure is public and monolithic in character, while its interior is an intimate hidden study room. We hope these characteristics will allow the structure to engage the public as both a place to sit and meet, and a place to reflect on the possible futures of the site. As a stone pier ages its corners soften, its surface gather traces of use. In this sense we hope the plasterous outer finish of the structure will become a kind of palimpsest for traces and stories about the site.
House of Muses mini exhibition
To complement GRUPPEs structure, the museum has delved into its own archives to present an accompanying mini exhibition in the rotunda space outside the entrance.
This display uses photography to tell the story of the building of the museum and sets it within the context of the area in which it resides - the heart of the City of London - an area of considerable change and renewal.
A late 19th century Ordnance Survey map, of the area in which the museum sits today, offers a reminder of the location as it was in 1894 radically different to today. This joins photographs by Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, which provide a powerful statement on the damage which Second World War bombing caused to the City of London, altering this central part of London forever. During the War, Cross and Tibbs, both City of London Police Constables, recorded the destruction caused by air raids, with all of the images displayed taken within half a mile of where the museum is today.
The Museum of Londons building was part of the post-war regeneration of the City. On display are concept drawings, sketches and plans from the 1960s, produced by the architectural practice, Powell & Moya, who designed the building. Photographs of the construction, which began in the southwest corner of the Barbican development in 1971, chart the completion of the museum, which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 2 December 1976.
These design documents and photographs reflect the challenge which the site presented: one which was cramped, beside a new dual carriageway and traffic roundabout, and wrapped around the 1920s Ironmongers Hall which had survived the war. A defining vision for the development of this area was the separation of pedestrians and motor vehicles through the creation of pedestrian walkways or pedways in the air. Only ever partially realised, this vision gave the museum its entrance above the street.
This additional context, with an explanation of the layers of history which characterise the landscape, are offered to help inform visitors thoughts as they visit the House of Muses.