Paul Williams on the new Museum of London

As the latest designs for the Museum of London are revealed to the public this week, Paul Williams speaks to the Architects’ Journal on the project vision and the journey towards its new home at West Smithfield market.

Which part of the designs give you most joy?
The opportunity to help reinvent, reimagine and transform a group of existing Market Buildings into a 21st-century museum is an extraordinary commission for us – especially in an area of London so rich in history, that is so evidently woven into the surrounding medieval street patterns. Smithfield is a perfect location the Museum of London, the place itself has so many stories to be told, and traces of the past to engage with.

Are you trying anything technically innovative here?
A number of innovative and experiential interventions are being explored, however, most of the technical research has been devoted to understand how best to sustainably transform a previous market environment into that of a world-class gallery with all its accompanying technical and environmental requirements.

What will visitors be most surprised by?
The vast scale of the buildings and the variety of dramatic and contrasting internal spaces. What is seen above ground is matched by subterranean environments that few people will have experienced or have any knowledge of. Visitors to the permanent galleries, located below the General Market, will descend, as it were, through the sedimentary layers of London’s past into cavernous 7m-high jack arched brick vaults, and discover they are walking at the level of the original Roman settlement in London. Large time-marked brick walls adjacent to Farringdon Street will separate them from the ancient River Fleet – the aim is to amplify its sound to make its presence felt – and a showcase window will provide a view of the Metropolitan and Circle Line trains going about their daily journeys.

How will it be different to any other museum experience in London?
The Market Buildings, once a place for trading goods will become places for trading ideas; spaces for the citizens of London to meet, debate and relax, capturing the voices of 21st-century London. An organisation that will not only acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibit but actively support Smithfield’s urban and cultural regeneration by engaging with the vibrant entrepreneurial community.

To quote the museum’s director, Sharon Arment: ‘Our building, our headquarters, our soapbox, will serve as London’s most significant portal and London’s memory.’

The buildings will provide a series of remarkably evocative and sensory spaces, unparalleled in London, that will continue to evolve along with the inhabitants of this globally important city.

Find out more here