Time for a new exhibition at the British Museum?

Gillian Darley index

The British Museum is at risk of being a thoroughly unpleasant experience before you are even inside, says Gillian Darley

The first thing that strikes you on looking at the rendering of Jamie Fobert Architects’ proposed new entrance to the National Portrait Gallery is to wonder where on earth it is. The north elevation to the Ewan Christian building of the 1890s is a sturdy reworking of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, but who had noticed that? Cut off and cluttered by a cat’s cradle of railings (inserted in 1951), some enclosing fussy flowerbeds, as well as the dominant statue of Sir Henry Irving, the apron stage that Fobert has found for the new approach to the gallery (by dint of turning three ground floor windows into doors) had been all but invisible. Now a moderately generous space emerges, spilling out beyond the entrance steps and ramp, inhabited by no more than the slightly repositioned Henry Irving and some seating. The effect, assuming that Westminster council plays ball, will be a paved forecourt shading into the pavement. The lucidity of this solution takes me, now head in hands, to the British Museum.

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