In October 2007 we won an architectural competition to redesign the Garden Museum. The
competition brief asked for a new gallery space where temporary exhibitions could be housed in secure and environmentally-controlled conditions.
It appeared to us that creating a dedicated place for the museum’s permanent collection
was equally important, as the exhibits were frequently moved to make space for events. We
developed a strategy which addressed both issues.
Our idea was to create a belvedere within the existing building. This houses the new galleries
and provides a raised ground from which a new perspective of the existing building is attained.
The belvedere structure enables us to place the temporary gallery at ground floor level and
move the permanent collection, from its former location in the nave, up to the new first floor
This new arrangement also empties the nave of exhibits so that the museum’s diverse cultural
programme of lectures, debates and seminars can take place alongside the exhibitions.
The belvedere is an entirely free-standing structure that only touches the floor of the existing
grade II* listed building and is entirely reversible. The project received whole hearted support
from Lambeth planners and English Heritage, who have used the project as an example of how contemporary architecture can successfully meld with historically sensitive buildings.
The belvedere is made from Eurban, a pre-fabricated engineered timber material. We used this material as it is light weight and very strong, and allowed us to realise the building forms we required. Being pre-fabricated and made of large panels it is also very quick to build with. The museum was closed for only 12 weeks whilst the work took place, and of this time the structure took three weeks to assemble. The timber structure is also very environmentally friendly.
The timber walls are left unfinished so that they recede into the background with the limestone of the church walls and columns, leaving the foreground for the exhibits and the life of the museum.
The windows and doors are strongly coloured and protrude through the raw timber walls. The
furniture and signage is also strongly coloured and is read as a further layer of detail added to
the mute timber form.
We also designed the re-hang of the permanent collection. This involved the spatial organization of the exhibition and the design of the cabinets.
From competition win to completion on site was thirteen months. The contract period was twelve weeks. The project cost £300,000.
Sarah de Bondt
RIBA Award 2009, Shortlisted
Building Design Magazine Architect of the Year Award - Refurbishment 2010, Winner