With a remarkable collection telling the story of domestic life housed in a set of richly atmospheric 18th century almshouses, the Museum of the Home is an institution of national significance.
The remodelling of the existing building, 92% of which is retrofit, doubled the publicly accessible areas, created 80% more exhibition space and ameliorated the building’s deterioration, with no commensurate increase in energy consumption or the costly carbon count associated with a new build. The Museum is widely celebrated for its contributions to the public realm; it has received multiple awards and continues to be a thriving centre of civic engagement in the heart of Hackney.
The scheme also improves public access through introducing a new main entrance directly opposite Hoxton Station, adds two new contemporary multi-functional garden pavilions together with a street-facing cafe. The design extends to landscaping, with new physical and visual links for visitors to the Museum’s gardens – one of the largest and most ecologically rich green spaces in Hackney.
When Wright & Wright were commissioned to remodel the Museum in 2014, it was under a growing set of pressures. The fabric of its Grade 1 listed buildings was in jeopardy, with structural weaknesses and outdated services. Collections were housed in poor conditions, circulation was inefficient, and education and exhibition spaces were at capacity.
In developing and implementing a ‘fabric first’ approach, the spatial and experiential potential of the historic almshouse was the project’s key impetus, catalysing an architecturally sustainable, sensitive and hugely effective outcome.
The team have had innovative ideas about how to develop the museum which, in turn, has helped us in fundraising as well as more fully realise our ambitions. Wright & Wright understood the complex set of issues involved in this project and has balanced architectural and cultural opportunities with the sensitivities surrounding the history of the museum.
There is no doubt in my mind that Wright & Wright have been a critical element in realisation our ambitions and enabling the museum to reinvent itself for the future.
Former Chair of the Board of Trustees, Museum of the Home
The site is one of the largest green spaces in Hackney, an invaluable 'green lung' in an otherwise dense, urban environment. Zero-waste gardens on both sides of the Museum, a drought-resilient green roof, and sustainable landscaping techniques by an in-house gardening team result in increased biodiversity on site and support visitor well-being overall.
The scheme greatly improved the discoverability and civic presence of the Museum in the neighbourhood through the opening and design of a second entrance adjacent to Hoxton Street Station. Bold, welcoming design elements such as the iconic red rampway and clear wayfinding complement this new, primary gateway to the public galleries and gardens. This highly visible access point has improved the public realm of the site and led to increased visitation rates.
Unlocking Underused Spaces
As a retrofit project, the scheme achieved substantial net gain of exhibition and public space for the Museum by reorganizing and transforming underused spaces in the existing Grade I-listed building for contemporary uses. The lower ground floor crypt, once stores for the collection, was excavated and restored to accommodate the new Home Galleries. The original brick vaulted ceilings have been preserved for posterity, reminding visitors of the architectural legacy of the building.
While great efforts were taken to preserve and reuse existing historic fabric, the project also offered opportunities to inject much-needed contemporary elements into the architecture and interiors of the building. In the reading room, a double-height oak stairwell serves as a focal point of the space, occupying the footprint of the original almshouse stairwell.
Several workshops with expert joiners resulted in a functional yet inventive design element which celebrates local craftsmanship. Multifunctional, it accommodates reading nooks for children, doubles as shelving for books, and provides access to the collections study centre.
Layers of History
In order to realise more gallery space within the existing building fabric, the lower ground floor was excavated by 500mm and the spinal corridor was relocated along the east side of the building. This approach secured the structure and resulted in the creation of a whole new floor of display space, the Home Galleries.
To honour and draw attention to the nearly 300-year continuum of architecture on the site, Wright & Wright elected to demarcate the original floorplan of the almshouses. Bronze strips set in diamond-polished concrete show visitors where brick walls and the outlines of original homes once stood. The Museum's curatorial team has implemented 'The Almshouse Trail' throughout the galleries, noting such architecturally significant elements and preserving the architectural legacy of the site.
This synthesis of new and old chimes with a reframed curatorial approach intended to make the Museum more appealing to a wider audience by addressing contemporary domestic issues, such as homelessness and fluctuating family structures. The architecture reflects and affirms the Museum’s reconceptualised identity, which aims to present a more nuanced understanding of the idea of home and how it shapes social relations.
- 2023 RIBA London Award
- Civic Trust Award 2023
- Heritage and Restoration Award 2023 Hackney Design Awards
- AJ Retrofit Awards 2022 Finalist
- Museum & Heritage Awards Sustainable Project of the Year 2022 Highly Commended