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Are old ones always best? The Great Court British Museum by Foster and Partners.

British museum courtyard

In my post of the19th March about the new concourse at Kings Cross station, I enthused about the opportunity to clear away the old concourse and start afresh with a new square. I also said I would revisit the architecture once I had visited the building. So, here goes.

After hanging around there for some time – with lots of other architects with cameras – it is clear the place works well and it is a quantum leap forward from what was there before. But when the froth has receded it is also clear that the roof is the architecture. The rest, its balcony, circulation, and the way it accommodates the shops and cafés without letting them over-run the place, is all competently executed but not thrilling. So, it is an amazing roof, but how good is it when compared to its peers? How does it compare to the Great Court at the British Museum?

The first thing to say is that the Great Court has a glass cladding, Kings Cross is mainly metal. This makes a tremendous difference, not least because at Kings Cross the roof obscures much of its historical context and does not sit comfortably within it.

Then there is the clarity of detail and in particular how the steel primary structure is detailed. Here it does not come close to the Great Court. A wrinkle in the geometry of the steelwork shows up on the inside and the outside, interfering with its mesmerizing quality. And where the roof structure comes down into the amazing vortex there is a confusing secondary structure on top supporting a bit of glass roof around this tricky area.

The concourse is very good, but the courtyard at the British Museum is great.

Kings Cross. vortex


british museum from above at night

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