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IDEAS / architecture

The British Museum. Never The Same

8 July 2014

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels – none of which are the same – frame 3312 triangular slices of sky.

This is the heart of the British Museum. The metaphor of all the different civilizations, whose relics are conserved in the museum. Like those different cultures, the panels interact, collide, work together. The result is a strong and stable structure.

Lowering the eyes, a second consideration comes to mind: contrast. At first glance, it is an architectonical and spatial contrast. The modern roof both holds together the different entities of the building and divides them, thus creating a new central space where the interplay of modern and neoclassical architecture is dominant. However beyond that initial contrast, there is a deeper antithesis. This is hidden in the soul of the building: the people. A museum without people is no museum at all.

Visitors come from every region of the world to see the wonders preserved in the museum. Sculptures, objects, books that – even if stolen – do not belong to us. Uprooted from their place of origin, they mingle among the crowd, in rooms where the frenetic movement of the visitors clashes with the stillness of the stone and marble. It is this contrast that shapes the building and makes it unique.

A building that is never experienced in the same way, because the people who walk through it are all different. Each individual with a distinct history, similar to the statues and the artifacts, not unlike the glazing panels.

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architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.