Sir John Soane’s Museum

No. 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2

Date of construction: No.12 (c1792), No.13 (1813) and No.14 (1824)

Original architect: Sir John Soane

Client: The Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane, one of Britain’s most original architects, was an early master of the manipulation of space and light with a Renaissance appetite to learn and reinvent. During his lifetime, Soane amassed a vast and extraordinary collection of antiquities, sculptures, architectural models, paintings and furniture. He then contained it within three purpose built adjoining Georgian townhouses that he ingeniously designed. Following Soane’s wishes, upon his death in 1837, his collection and two of the buildings he owned were gifted to the Nation and formally established as this remarkable public museum, which today attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Since the early 1990’s, Julian Harrap Architects has been inspection architect for Sir John Soane’s Museum. One of JHA’s earliest commission for the Museum was the award-winning ‘The Three Courtyards Project’, which restored and repaired the external light wells or courtyards located at the rear of the three grade I listed buildings.

JHA also extensively restored 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Trustees of the Museum bought back the building in the late 1990s, as it had been sold soon after Soane’s death to resolve a contest of his will. JHA reinstated the building to its original, magnificent splendour during Soane’s lifetime. This involved reversing the modifications made to the interiors of the six-storey property, removing modern partitions and strengthening the building to support the weight of the books of the relocated library to the first floor.

However, the most radical and challenging of projects in both its scale and detail, is the more recent three-phased ‘Opening up the Soane’ project, which involved all three buildings. The ambition of this scheme was to make the Museum more accessible by improving disabled access throughout, which included the discreet installation of a new lift, enhancing visitor circulation and experience and providing essential visitor facilities such as a dedicated shop.

As leading conservation architect we restored the rooms and facilitated the new exhibition galleries in No. 12 and restored 10 historic Soane spaces that had been lost or altered beyond recognition, the latter being one of the most rewarding aspects of the project. Such challenges involved reinstating Soane’s private apartments, his Bed Chamber, Bathroom, Oratory, Book Passage, Mrs Soane’s Morning Room and the Model Room, on the second floor of No. 13 to how they were at the time of Soane’s death.

The Museum’s extensive archive material recording the appearance of these spaces throughout the buildings’ history, formed the basis of the proposals. By working closely with the Museum and expert specialists in wallpaper, stained glass conservation, fabrics and furniture, we painstakingly and authentically re-created a whole suite of rooms to how Soane would have known them while illuminating for visitors a deeper understanding of the more domestic aspect of the house.

− RIBA National Award 2009
− The Mies Van der Rohe European Union Award 2017 (Longlist)
− Georgian Group Awards 2013 (Phase 1)
− RICS National Award 2013 (Phase 1)
− Georgian Group Awards 2015 (Phase 2)
− RIBA National Award 2016 (Phase 2)

Photographer: Gareth Gardner