The Growth of Museums: British and Prado, Permanence and Change


The experience gained in the Sackler Galleries and the Reichstag enabled Foster to help museums with the predicament of growth within historical buildings. Indeed, the redevelopment of London’s British Museum (won in a competition in 1994) and the extension of Madrid’s Prado Museum (withdrawn from the competition of 1996) raise heritage and urban dilemmas more complex than the straightforward addition to the 1930’s Art Deco Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, won in a competition in 1992 and expediently finished two years later in a schematic manner. In the case of Smirke’s British Museum, the recovery of the Great Court (until now occupied by the Reading Room of the British Library) has been made possible by the library’s move to new premises in St. Pancras; Foster has covered the court with a glazed roof between the perimeter facades and the Reading Room, now adapted to different uses that also extend to a crescent mezzanine. In the case of Villanueva’s Prado, the extension was proposed through a partly subterranean top-lit podium that makes intelligent use of the topography, showing how the museum could grow without impinging on its neighbours, and thereby paradoxically breaking the competition rules, which sadly prompted Foster to withdraw...[+]

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