LONDON UNDER LONDON | London, England | Unit 21 | 2015
MUSEUM OF LONDON – ANNEX | London, England | Unit 21 | 2015
London Under London
There is more to the city of London than meets the eye… Beneath its streets is another world. Interested in the London under London, I began to investigate and map this hidden world, discovering a dense network of information and history, tunnels, sewers and lost rivers that make up this ‘ambiguous territory’ beneath our feet.
Over 15% of London’s population was wiped out between 1665 and 1666 alone and the bodies were placed in tens if not hundreds of plague pits scattered across the city and the surrounding countryside. The majority of these sites were originally in the grounds of churches, but as the body count grew and the graveyards became overcharged with the dead, then dedicated pits were hastily constructed in the fields surrounding London. The largest mass grave in London during the Black Death was located in Charterhouse Square, adjacent to Barbican Station. It is thought that around 50,000 bodies were buried here. The pit was unearthed during Crossrail building work in 2013 when the Museum of London were brought in to excavate and study the remains.
Museum of London – Annex
All of the archaeology from the London area, be it artefacts, records or photographs, is deposited at the Museum of London but up 99.9% of the collected material is stored in boxes, unseen by the public. This includes some 17,000 skeletons and bits of skeletons.
Located in the airspace above Barbican Station, the Museum of London Annex provides a home for the unseen archives of the museum and creates a unique viewing experience for both the visitors within and the commuters below. Taking inspiration from the earlier research into London’s hidden world beneath the surrounding streets, The Annex’s collection is embedded into the building fabric itself – within suspended rammed earth walls and floating within glass cases held beneath the main galleries. As such, the building and its collection can be read and experienced in one way by the commuters of the station – gazing up the collection from the platform level or as fleeting glimpses from within the passing trains and another by visitors to The Annex itself. With the planned relocation of the Museum of London to a new site at Smithfield Market by 2021, The Annex will facilitate the museums highlights and allow it to have a continued Barbican presence whilst construction begins at Smithfield.
The site offered up numerous challenges which the building had to respond to both structurally and visually. The structural system was carefully considered to create the illusion of the building floating above the platforms whilst minimising the impact on the Victorian retaining walls of the station. And key site lines of the Barbican towers were maintained through a considered arrangement of spatial volumes.
A journey through The Annex, will give visitors the chance to view London’s heritage in a unique and unconventional manner, observing artefacts from below, within or ‘as-found’, withdrawing from the traditional manner of museum displays. Viewing terraces and balconies will offer up vantage points at which to experience a unique perspective of the activities of the station below and the surrounding built landscape as yet unseen.