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British Museum trails masterplan launch and competition

Hartwig Fischer © Benedict Johnson

Bosses at the British Museum are set to release details of their masterplan for the historic institution’s renovation in a matter of weeks, with an international architectural competition coming on its heels.

Details of the masterplan timing and competition launch accompanied an announcement confirming that Hartwig Fischer, who has served as the museum’s director since 2016, will step down from the role next year.

Fischer was tasked with developing a comprehensive masterplan for the renovation of the historic Bloomsbury building, and the redisplay of its world-renowned collection, when he started in his current role just over seven years ago.

The museum said: “Work on the masterplan is now nearing completion, it will be published this autumn and an international architectural competition will follow.”

It said the construction of the John McAslan & Partners-designed British Museum Archaeological Research Collection in Berkshire, which will open next year, was a key part of the initial phases of the “multigenerational” masterplan project.

Inside John McAslan & Partners' British Museum Archaeology Research Centre, earmarked for a site in Shinfield

Fischer cautioned that the renovation project would be a long haul, but said the soon-to-be published masterplan would guide its delivery.

“In 2016, I was called to the British Museum to prepare the essential renovation of a building in need of rejuvenation, a global icon of museum architecture whose complex architectural substance calls for urgent, largescale intervention,” he said.

“The renovation work itself will take several decades, but the mission I was given by the trustees has been accomplished: the foundations of the BM Masterplan are now laid. It will serve as the basis for all subsequent work and forms the foundation to innovative concepts for the future display.”

The museum praised Fisher for leading on acclaimed refurbishments of galleries at Bloomsbury. Projects included Nissen Richards’ renewal of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia; RFK Architects’ refurbishment the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries; and Stanton Williams relocation of the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World.

The British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, London

It added that Fischer had set the institution “on course for a comprehensive energy transition” towards greener, more sustainable energy sources over the coming years.

Former chancellor George Osborne now counts being British Museum chair among his post-government jobs.

He said Fischer was an “intellectual tour de force” who had led the museum through a “pivotal period” and developed “a comprehensive masterplan for a bright, long-term future”. But Osborne did not downplay the scale of work that the masterplan would involve.

“The publication of our masterplan this autumn, and the architectural competition and construction work that follows will be a great challenge,” he said.

He said recruitment for Fischer’s successor would also commence in the autumn.

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