Sketch of the General Market

Museum of London - our vision for West Smithfield

We are immensely excited about being given the opportunity to work with the Museum of London on this wonderfully challenging project – participating in an endeavour that will transform an area of London that has such a rich history, but sadly has been in decline for many years.

Encountering the historic market spaces for the first time in early April this year, we were ‘blown away’ by the power and physicality already existing, and knew then, that whatever scheme we developed, this physicality needed to be harnessed, and not lost, and that initial observation has inspired our initial design proposals. This project will engage a broad community well beyond London.

Embedded in Smithfield’s rich historic surroundings, the abandoned Market Buildings offer a diverse range of spaces, both above and below ground. Atmospheric qualities of light and shade and a rich palette of materials create a perfect setting in which to exhibit the Museum’s collection - even the sound of underground trains and the flowing water of the River Fleet echoing under the Farringdon Road can be heard.

The site has the potential to engage all the senses and become an unparalleled experience in London, not only for storytelling, but expressing the spirit of 21st century London.

Our proposals conceive the revived Smithfield General Market as a building that is permeable on all sides, in the same way as a city square engages with its surroundings. But, in this instance, a covered square – with no front door, an arena for public life, performance, installation, debate, with places for rest and reflection on the past and future. This will be the new ‘Centre’ of London, a democratic meeting place for Londoners, an incubator, as well as the centre of a global capital city.

Locating the Museum collection underground is predicated on our belief that the physical experience of moving down into the dramatic cavernous ‘excavated’ chambers, engages our mental and emotional senses to deepen the processes of learning and discovery, as well as, most importantly, to trigger imagination – making tangible the invisible realities of London’s past.

Our design begins with the single idea that the dome of the General Market exactly marks the ‘new centre’ of London, and a circular aperture in the floor directly under the dome marks the Museum entrance. Conceived as a portal into London’s past – visitors descend into the museum via spiral escalators, evoking a magic similar to that of venturing through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. The physical experience of moving down into the sedimentary layers of London’s history, mirrors, we believe, our primordial reflex to dig, and explore – so it’s as if the visitor will be entering a dig that has just unearthed a remarkable collection of historic artefacts.

Enveloping the majority of the Museum of London’s vast collection in an ‘earth bound’, climatically stable environment seems correct. A collection that will retell and bring back to life in vivid detail the extraordinary story of the growth of the City on the Thames, from the 3rd century BC to the present day.

Paul Williams, Director, Stanton Williams

Sketch of The Institute