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British Museum Great Court, London
Photograph: Dan Breckwoldt /

The British Museum is getting a huge £50 million redesign

But the project is already proving controversial due to the involvement of fossil fuel giant BP

Liv Kelly
Written by
Liv Kelly

London’s collection of museums is one of its biggest flexes, and though the British Museum has faced some controversy over the last few months, it’s still one of the city’s grandest and most-visited attractions

Now, the Grade I-listed museum is in for a glow-up. Its ‘western range’, which is home to Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts, will be revitalised in what’s been described as the museum’s biggest building project since the 1820s. 

Currently, the museum has around 3,500 rooms and eight million items in its permanent collections. According to Architects Journal, the aim is to incorporate ‘contemporary architecture and innovative gallery displays’ while continuing to respect the historical and protected parts of the site.

‘Each generation makes its own contribution: 200 years ago, our forebears commissioned the great Classical façade; 100 years ago it was the King Edward VI building; a quarter of a century ago, it was the [Foster + Partners-designed] Great Court,’ said George Osborne, museum chair and former chancellor of the exchequer.

But while the contract is yet to be awarded to an architecture firm, the project is already proving controversial. That’s because the hefty £50 million worth of funding being supplied to the museum is coming from fossil fuel giant BP. 

Museum trustee Muriel Gray, a former chair of the Glasgow School of Art, resigned when the partnership was announced at the end of last year, and in January there were calls on architects from environmental campaigners to not partake in the contest. 

Other institutions such as the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Shakespeare Company have turned down sponsorship by BP in recent years. Doug Parr, UK policy director for Greenpeace, said the deal ‘must surely be one of the biggest, most brazen greenwashing sponsorship deals the sector has ever seen’.

The British Museum is after proposals from architectural firms and a shortlist of potential teams will be announced in August. Each of these will be awarded with £50,000 to participate in the design phase, and each proposal will be exhibited to the public by the end of the year. 

More on London’s museums

From the transformation of the gardens at the Natural History Museum to the dazzling outdoor sculptures at Kew Gardens, London’s museums and attractions are constantly changing it up. Have a look at our art gallery and museum hubs for all the latest cool stuff happening across the capital. 

Did you see that the London Eye is now officially a permanent attraction?

Plus: A large part of the London Overground will soon close for six weekends

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