British Museum Unveils World Conservation and Exhibition Centre

Following the successful launch of the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery in March with a major exhibition on the Vikings, the British Museum today unveils the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC). The new Centre cements the British Museum’s reputation as a world leader in the exhibition, conservation, examination and analysis of cultural objects from across the globe.

Arup has been responsible for designing a number of engineering services including Building Services, Vertical Transportation, Acoustics, Fire, Security and Lighting. Working in close collaboration with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for the Trustees of the British Museum, Arup has designed state of the art environmental services that allow the conditions to be precisely and efficiently controlled. This enables the preservation and conservation of irreplaceable artefacts with the minimum of energy consumption.

The 18,000m2 extension houses a conservation and research wing with modern laboratories, a logistics hub for handling artefacts, offices and collection storage areas as well as the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery and associated suite. This will enable the majority of the British Museum’s operations to take place on the main campus for the first time.

Energy related design features include heat recovery and variable flow on all ventilation and pipework systems, laboratory fume and dust exhausts and lighting controls. Other energy saving controls such as visitor monitoring to track fresh air requirements have also been incorporated.

Andy Sedgwick, Arup Project Director, comments:

“This is one of the most complex projects that Arup has delivered in recent years in the heart of London. We are seeking to achieve BREEAM Excellent which is highly ambitious given the diverse range of demanding uses. Zero-carbon technology has been incorporated into the building through roof mounted photovoltaic cells. All services are very closely co-ordinated with structural and architectural elements to provide a coherent visual appearance”.

The new extension comprises four linked pavilions connected to the existing buildings with a fifth pavilion that has been designed underground. Ann Dalzell, Arup’s Project Manager states:

“These pavilions enable the museum to bring together functions that were previously split across several sites and provide the ideal environment for the museum’s collections and staff. The clever use of space and the coordinated architecture, structure and servicing strategy enables the building to feel spacious, bright and airy”.

The construction process, within a tightly constrained site surrounded by Grade I listed buildings was demanding, and required ingenuity from the design and construction team. Arup worked closely with Mace and the rest of the design team to meet a demanding and exacting programme. The team managed to excavate a five storey basement, construct the new building, maintain the quality of the works and keep the museum’s visitors and neighbours happy throughout the construction period which lasted just over three years.

In order to meet planning requirements, the design team proposed that the science facilities be placed in the basement. This approach provides full control over the lighting, temperature and ventilation, creating the stable conditions ideal for laboratory work. Importantly, this approach also minimises vibration that could affect sensitive scientific equipment.

The Lighting brief was very diverse, technical and complex. The requirements had to unify a scheme for many different specialist activities with specific lighting requirements, whilst delivering the design intent and aesthetics as set by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.

There were unusual requirements for the artificial lighting system designs within the building. Examples include conservation studios which require extraordinary levels of illuminance with high colour rendering. These allow conservators to carry out detailed tasks on objects such as stone, mosaics and pictorial art. In the Science Laboratories many spaces had specific requirements with regards to Electromagnetic Interference, (EMI) and spectral output of lamps.

Custom luminaires were developed to cover the conservation studios and office space. The same luminaires were used throughout to provide a coherency between the connecting floors and spaces.

Kevin Womack, Arup’s Lighting Designer comments:

“A building wide KNX/DALI lighting control system was incorporated to create the most energy efficient scheme achievable. The entire building is controlled by motion detectors, a time-clock and photocells where daylight is available”.

Dynamic dimming is employed throughout all daylit spaces to provide maximum energy savings while maintaining the conservators need for high levels of quality light. Using high colour rendering lamps while achieving the low energy aspirations of the client and design team presented a significant challenge.

From the early stages of the project, daylight design was a key aspect of the architectural vision. Daylight and sunlight analysis was undertaken for the offices and Conservation Studios. The Conservation Studios were designed to take full advantage of the daylight that is achieved from the roof lights and full height glazing. Locating the Conservation Studios with their demand for excellent light on the top floor of the building has also enabled a further efficiency.

Vertical Transportation
A bespoke lorry lift has been designed by Arup’s Vertical Transport Specialist, Roger Howkins. Roger’s challenge was to design a system that has to move a 42 ton inter-continental juggernaut lorry. The lift has an internal size of 4.5m wide x 19m long x 4.7m high with doors on three sides. The lift moves from the pavement level down to Basement 3 through a 17.5m travel distance. A special control system allows the facility to move the lift up and down from the landings by “inching” to ensure that the bed of the lorry is level with the floor of the basement storage suites where the museum’s collection of objects will be stored.

When the lift is below ground the only visible aspect is the discreet outline of the lid at pavement level. The lift has a full lifting capacity to move 123 tons.

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