The Twentieth Century Society

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100 Buildings 100 Years

1914: King Edward VII Galleries, British Museum

Status: Listed Grade I
Condition: Good condition
Type: Public building
Architect: Sir John Burnet & Partners
Location: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

On 7th May, 1914, attended by ambassadors from the principal European countries that would be at war with each other thee months later, King George V opened the major extension to the British Museum, for which his father laid the foundation stone in 1907. The completed section (only part of an ambitious plan to rebuild all three undeveloped sides of the Museum’s island site) represented the height of achievement in modern classicism, bringing a knighthood to its Paris-trained Glaswegian designer.

Burnet was a highly creative experimental designer, yet possessed of a sense of the appropriate for each occasion. The drama lies within the cool Ionic exterior, in the complex staircase with its gilded lift cage and re-invented classical orders. This building looks two ways – back to the Greek Revival of 100 years before, and forwards to steel framed structures and the poetic classicism of Josep Plecnik and E. Gunnar Asplund.

by Alan Powers

Listing description

British Museum: architecture

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