Save the Museum building gets more support – now ideas needed on how to retrofit and refill

Some 400 people packed St Giles Cripplegate earlier this week for the latest campaign meeting against proposed office development on the site of the now-closed Museum of London. Back story on the plans and campaign here.

The Barbican Quarter Action campaign highlighted the decision of the Twentieth Century Society to put Bastion House and the Museum building on their list of the ten most threatened 20th century building in the UK – see report below.

I found it a fascinating information-packed meeting with a recap and update on the campaign from Barbican Association Chair Adam Hogg, a review of key 20th century architectural developments from Coco Whittaker, and Ian Chalk’s detailed exposition of retrofitting rather than redeveloping sites.

The campaign has been successful in gaining media attention around the high carbon release of redevelopment, the potential for retrofitting Bastion House, and challenging the shift from the original planned cultural use of the site to commercial.

It seems to me that the campaign’s key audience for the next phase is City Corporation members, who will vote at planning committee, and who might press the City leadership for a belated review of alternative options for the site. That was never done when the planned Centre for Music was dropped. A decision was made to go for offices in order to generate some £50 million and fund the move of the Museum to West Smithfield.

Apparently City’s financial situation has deteriorated since then.

The difficulty, as I see it, is that sympathetic council members will need a strong case to put to the leadership that covers two things: first finances, and linked to that the use of buildings if they are to be retrofitted.

I can see that Bastion House might become a hotel, or residential, but as I wrote last time, What can you do with an empty museum?

In fact quite a few creative suggestion have been circulating. The campaign can argue that they don’t have the resources to carry out a study into potential uses – but they could invite ideas and prime discussion. That would help supporters give renewed backing, and provide members with more confidence to challenge the leadership. We need positive ideas, not just negative critique of the Corporation.

The alternative is the planning committee grants consent, the campaign has to resort to a judicial review, and hope for a call in by the relevant Minister. I don’t know the legal ins and outs, but it surely wouldn’t hurt the decision-making climate to have some realistic options in play.

Lots more on the lively Barbican Quarter Action website

Meeting report from BQA

The Twentieth Century Society places Bastion House and the Museum of London on their Buildings At Risk list in another blow to the City’s plans

At a packed meeting in St Giles’s Church last night, Coco Whittaker, Senior Caseworker at the Twentieth Century Society, announced that Bastion House and the Museum of London are being recognised as one of the ten most threatened 20th century buildings in the UK and are being placed on their Buildings at Risk list.

This is a highly significant moment and another blow to the City’s plans to create an inappropriate new office development at London Wall West. The Twentieth Century Society confirmed that it will campaign for Bastion House and Museum of London to be identified as Designated Heritage Assets that merit protection.

The City was granted a Certificate of Immunity from Listing until August 2024 in the context of the Centre for Music scheme. Clearly the City’s current plans for LWW have little or no cultural or heritage merit, but the immunity from listing still stands. Demolition can therefore, in principle, take place anytime before August 2024, whether under permitted development rights or following the granting of planning permission by the City’s own Planning and Transportation Committee. But all our energies are focussed on stopping the seemingly relentless cycle of demolition and new build.

The Twentieth Century Society’s significant announcement is a clear warning to the City that their plans will be carefully scrutinised at national level and major objections will continue to be made from a wide range of expert sources.

At the same meeting, renowned architect Ian Chalk gave valuable insight into the growing trend to refit and refurbish existing structures, using the successful re-purposing of the brutalist style Camden Town Hall extension (which was also on the Twentieth Century Buildings at Risk Register) as a case study. It was clear from how the developer approached this project and what was achieved, that the City has never seriously investigated with due diligence the potential to refit and re-purpose Bastion House and the Museum of London.

The demolition of Bastion House and the MoL will release 45,000 tons of C02 into the atmosphere – a huge and entirely avoidable contribution to the climate crisis and one which directly flies in the face of the City’s net zero policy for the Square Mile.

Videos of the presentations by the Twentieth Century Society and Ian Chalk will be available on the BQA website in the coming days.

Revised proposals from the City for the LWW scheme are expected in the next two months and BQA will of course keep everyone aware of any news or developments and will continue to do everything possible to make the City stop and re-think their ill-conceived plans.

1 thought on “Save the Museum building gets more support – now ideas needed on how to retrofit and refill

  1. Thanks also for this, David. Very comprehensive.
    I agree there needs to be more discussion, especially about building more offices when office occupancy is unlikely ever to rise to pre-pandemic levels and there are already so many new ones already in process of being built.
    It will be interesting to see if the campaign will offer any suggestions as to what to do with the Bastion (if retained), and how much such a major change of purpose would cost.

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