Case Study: Museum of the Home

The Museum of the Home (MotH) in Hoxton, London, is open after three years of redevelopment. The project included the renovation of a 300 year old almshouse and the creation of newly built elements to reimagine the visitor experience. The transformation was designed by Wright & Wright Architects and used a JCT Standard Building Contract.

The original building that houses the MotH started life in the 18th Century as an almshouse. Its career as a museum began in 1914 when the almshouse was converted to the Museum of Furniture, linking it to the industry in the East End. Various expansions and additions have occurred over the years, including a 1988 project by Branson Coates. The museum had been looking to upgrade for some time, but a proposal by David Chipperfield failed to pass planning due to the requirement to demolish an existing pub building on the site’s edge. A new competition in 2014 resulted in the appointment of Wright & Wright Architects.

The objectives of the redevelopment were to expand the gallery space, provide new facilities, increase public space, and make the flow through the museum more organic and visitor driven. This has been achieved by stabilizing and renovating the existing buildings, including the almshouse and pub, creating two new pavilions, and re-orienting the building to make sense of its location and the natural flow of visitors to and around the space. The result is an 80% increase in gallery space and a 50% increase in public space.

A major stipulation was that the expansion could not encroach on the museum’s existing gardens, themselves a much-loved feature and one of the museum’s most prized assets. At one time it represented 14% of all open space across Shoreditch. The project team took the approach of maximizing the connection between the internal and external spaces and the way that visitors could move between and interact with them.

Much of the space increase has been achieved through the renovation and rediscovery of the building’s existing structure. Previous modifications to the almshouse’s east wing had caused weaknesses through openings made to the front wall. The decision was made to switch the circulation route to the other side of the building to alleviate pressure, and further stabilise the building by adding a full first floor, replacing the existing lightweight mezzanines. Trial pits revealed that the foundations were deep enough to dig down by a further metre across the lower ground floor.  This excavation unlocked a whole floor plate to be used as additional gallery space. These stabilising measures generated usable space across all three floors of the 100m long building.

The temptation to create the classic ‘white box’ gallery was avoided, instead the inherent domesticity of the building was celebrated to link into the museum’s subject matter. Across the lower-ground floor, which contains the new ‘Home’ galleries, architectural features of the building have been highlighted, and any elements that needed to be removed had their outlines traced with a brass line on the floor. Bricked up windows have been opened up to reconnect with the gardens, but the light was mapped by service engineers so that blinds can be closed at times when sunlight would cause damage to the collection.

The ground floor of the almshouse is the area where most of the original interior features have been preserved, including the original wall panelling and timber floor. Wright & Wright consulted with Historic England and conservationists, the Georgian Group, in working on preserving and treating these features. The fully added and stabilised first floor provides the collection’s storage facilities which are up to modern standards, as well as new, light-finished, double-height library in the roof. Elsewhere, the almshouse chapel and undercroft provide their own distinct exhibiting opportunities. The undercroft’s brick arches, for instance, have been left exposed which contrasts with the colourful lime-plastered walls of the ‘Home’ gallery. Further connecting visitors to the outside space, new benches allow views out into garden and the ability to listen to a specifically created sound exhibition.

The existing ground-floor rooms contain the renamed ‘Rooms Through Time’ and display reconstructed living areas of typical middleclass homes dating from the 1630s to the 1990s. The lower-ground floor ‘Home’ galleries have displays ranging from tastes and changing family structures, to the role of women in the home, to displays developed with charity groups that reflect migration stories and experiences of those suffering from, or at risk of, homelessness. The curatorial approach is intended to reflect the design of the project – which mixes the old and new and broadens the museum’s appeal by addressing contemporary issues. The aim of the layout is that by the time visitors have moved through the Home gallery, they are able to reflect on the Rooms Through Time with a more nuanced understanding of the home and its meaning within society. However, the route is not prescriptive and the reconfigured circulation of the building, designed around a new reception space with flexible entry and exit points, enables visitors to create their own experience.

Another impact of the new circulation route is that the main public entrance is now at the rear of the building. This provides a more direct route from Hoxton station across the street. The aim, besides being a more direct, natural route for the public, was to erode the barrier between museum and public land. The new Hoxton station visitor entrance encourages pedestrians to enter through a series of sculptural ramps and steps framed by plants. The extended entrance creates areas for people to meet and sit.  The adjacent existing pub building has been converted to the museum’s café. With its own entrance, it provides another distinct public space and has its own additional entry into the museum.

The rear entry elevation presents a view to the visitor of the museum’s history and the modifications to the building that have happened over the years. Into this fabric are woven the project’s two new-build elements – the Pavilions – which whilst being contemporary in design, continue the existing materials palette of dark brick, timber, and metalwork. The position of the pavilions is designed to minimise impact on the green space. The Learning Pavilion is constructed against an existing wall to tie it into the site whilst preserving an existing herb garden. The Studio Pavilion is located where the gardener’s compound was. The Pavilions are a low-impact way of expanding the museum’s functional spaces and help to expand its programme of education and other activities. The Learning Pavilion contains light-filled rooms that can cater for two school groups, whilst the multi-function Studio Pavilion with a capacity of 80, can host lectures, debates, performances, and a social event called the Sunday Roast.

The gardens – already such an important asset, are considered a vital part of the museum’s visitor experience. The ‘Gardens Through Time’ explores the history of English residential garden design. Changes have been made to improve the connections between the museum buildings, so that the gardens are accessible from all internal spaces, as well as directly from the street entrance. Landscaping elements include widened brick paths, seating, and vibrant planters set along the rear wall of the almshouse. Further expanding the green space is the addition of a green roof to the Studio Pavilion. Designed to be resilient and low maintenance, the green roof features an assortment of Mediterranean plant species commonly found in dry gardens. The plant choices encourage wildlife and provide a nectar source for pollinators. The roof attenuates rainwater running into the public system through its bucket-like drainage layer, purifies air, and improves thermal mass of the building, helping to passively regulate internal temperature and reduce energy footprint.

The use of the JCT Standard Building Contract perfectly ties into the project’s ethos of combining old and new. The traditional form of contract enables users to capture a complex set of requirements, backed by a tried-and-trusted set of provisions. Where a number of specialist requirements and a mix of building techniques are needed to both renovate existing structures and complete new building elements, the JCT Standard Building Contract equips the parties with the contractual tools to successfully complete a timeless and sensitively thought-out project.


Project Data

Start: July 2018

Completion: April 2021

Cost: £18.1m

Contract: JCT Standard Building Contract without Quantities

Gross internal floor area: 2182m2 (museum) 371m2 (café)

Gross external floor area: 2584m2 (museum) 448m2 (café)


Project Team

Architect: Wright & Wright Architects

Client: Museum of the Home

Structural Engineer & Heritage Consultant: Alan Baxter Ltd

Services, Lighting & Acoustic Engineer: Max Fordham LLP

Quantity Surveyor & Project Manager: Gardiner & Theobald LLP

Fire Engineer: Menzies Partners Ltd

Landscape Architect: Dominic Cole Landscape Architects Ltd

Main Contractor: Quinn London Ltd

Principal Designer Advisor: The Stroma Group Ltd

Exhibition Designer: ZMMA Ltd

Exhibition Contractor: Elmwood Projects

Wayfinding Consultant: Dn&Co

Furniture Procurement: Collaborate Furniture


Images: Hufton+Crow