top of page

Future Cities Forum's 'Cultural Cities' - report part 3

Image: redevelopment of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton London, now Museum of the Home, courtesy Wright & Wright

The third part of Future Cities Forum's 'Cultural Cities' discussion at the British Film Institute, looked at the growth of modern culture and its relevance to present day audiences, how it is funded and the built environment that will be required in the future for creative endeavour. Questions asked were:

How do we update galleries for modern audiences and districts?

Should the UK government be investing more in culture for communities?

How do we educate the next generation and build creative studio spaces for film production?

Danielle Patten, Director: Creative Programmes and Collections at The Museum of the Home, Gareth Wilkins, Partner, Pilbrow and Partners and Jason Lebidineuse, Director, Scott Brownrigg responded to these issues.

The Museum of the Home has faced the challenge of updating its collections with a new gallery looking at the 'home of the future'. This has been made possible in the first instance through a re-modelling by architects Wright & Wright which described the project:

'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 The fabric of its Grade 1 listed buildings was in jeopardy, with structural weaknesses and outdated services.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.'

Danielle Patten continued in our discussion:

'The 2021 redevelopment allowed for new spaces and a new gallery in the basement. This was so important to get away from the existing corridors which were not very pleasant to be in and was difficult for large groups to visit, especially schools. It provided more circulation.

'Importantly, it allowed us to make changes to the galleries to represent our local communities. Hoxton is a place that has really changed and east London is now a home for thriving artists and creatives. We wanted to respond to that. We are famous for our period rooms looking at the home environment over 400 years, but we needed a new gallery so that more objects could be out of the archive and on display and we wanted to allow people to tell of their own home experiences and tell their stories.'

'Our future homes gallery looks at how we can build our homes of the future. It includes new ideas of storage and how to insulate our homes for example. Of course we needed the research to do this, so we needed to partner up with Northumbria University which has all the knowledge about home gadgets and tech through to connectivity. It is harder and harder to find funding for new galleries, so the partnership is really important to us. Lots of interesting questions will come up through visitors visiting the gallery which opens this July, such as - will we be afraid to leave our homes in the future, how interactive will they be etc.? We are looking forward to our visitor engagement and seeing their reactions.'

Image: regeneration of Granada EMD cinema into Soho Theatre, courtesy Pilbrow & partners

The London Borough of Walthamstow has worked hard to build itself as a 'borough of culture' and this has in part been through funding and retrofitting heritage buildings such as the former Granada EMD cinema, which will open this autumn as a new centre for comedy, drawing visitors not just locally but from large distances around.

Pilbrow & Partners, architects in charge of the project describe the potential:

'The site comprises a Grade II* listed super cinema, recognised to be of national significance as a rare surviving example of the extravagant and flamboyant work of the Granada Group, their famed architect, Cecil Aubrey Masey, and interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky, at the height of the cinema boom of the 1930s.

'The restoration of the EMD will form the centrepiece of the wider, culturally-led regeneration initiative, promoted by Waltham Forest. The cultural and educational uses will be supported by restaurants and bars. In totality, the site will thus become a vibrant hub of activity by day and night and a major contributor to the local economy.

'This project enables Waltham Forest to further establish itself as a key player in London’s creative and cultural scene with a unique cultural identity and serves the Borough aspirations to become London’s first Borough of Culture in 2019. The project will create a destination for East London and support the growing evening economy.'

Gareth Wilkins of Pilbrow & Partners, who worked as an architect on the project, and joined our forum discussion thinks the centre will be highly successful:

'It will be called Soho Theatre and we have taken the space inside the cinema and divided it up to respect the heritage of the place. There was a challenge with the council to make it a sustainable building but keep the heritage, but I think we have found the right balance. After all, this was a place where Hitchcock (came to watch films) and the Rolling Stones used to come to and perform. It is a local theatre with a local profile, but such a good centre for the creative cluster the council are trying to build. It will mean that it upgrades the quality of artists that come into the area. It will have live productions that go global. The council are paying for it and it will be very well received by the community.'

Gareth commented that he did have concerns however with UK government funding of the arts in general:

'Culture in other countries is going strength to strength, but there is a lack of investment generally here. What is going on? We are leading in science but again not enough investment available. Germany has so much more. Cambridge is building thousands of new houses around the city and it should have cultural infrastructure built into it but I don't see it coming. There is a great lack of interest in the importance of culture in the UK, There is room for 'high' and 'low' art, but I think we have lost our global presence in this area. People now fly to Australia for it.'

Image: Shinfield Studios, Berkshire, courtesy of Scott Brownrigg

Arts Council England has been investing in cultural projects through the DCMS and in new areas such as gaming. But is this enough and how can the UK support the boom in the building of film studios?

There has been US investment in the UK film studio design and build over the last few years, but is the bubble about to burst? The recent actors' strike has halted production in some cases and now Scott Brownrigg's Director Jason Lebidineuse, says there needs to be thought to how to encourage the next generation of film makers. He commented:

''The investment into the film industry has come from abroad because of the great actors and production staff are all here, we have beautiful backdrops for filming and the financial incentives. The funding is coming from the US because filming is declining there and Canada is growing. The opportunity is huge. In 2019 it was known that the UK needed two million square feet to cope with the demand for film-making to happen here, otherwise it will go to Europe. There has been a large amount of expansion over the last five years and there is a thought that we may be nearing saturation, but there are differing opinions"

'The culture for film-making is revered here from around the world. As a practice we have looked at lots of sites and highlighted the best to our clients. Sometimes there is resistance from the community or an inability to source the power you might need. Shinfield Studios (near Reading) worked because it already had permission for a science park and that was the same for Sunset Studios (at Broxbourne) with permission for a business park. But industrial action has hurt the industry. No one did anything last year but I and others are hopeful that things will get going again at the end of this year.

'What we have to be mindful of is that the next generation of film-makers are currently children sitting in their bedrooms making their own films on Apple phones. Where will the funding come from to support them as they grow up? We need to be re-investing in our cities and buildings and identifying areas that we can build the right cultural spaces for them to develop their skills and for productions. The way we educate children needs to change and encourage the germs of an idea that they have so that it can make it to the big screen. What we need to focus on is developing smaller studios.'

Scott Brownrigg has described its impressive design project for Shinfield Studios:

'Our masterplan and architectural design for Shinfield Studios - a new state-of-the-art media hub at the previous Thames Valley Science Park [TSVP] in Berkshire - received full planning approval by Wokingham Borough Council in 2021. The £250 million film and TV studios will provide approximately 1,000,000 sqft of sound stages, workshops, offices and ancillary spaces, becoming one of the largest film and TV studios in the UK.


'The scheme forms part of a wider vision to create a new 'Cine Valley' in the Science Park, which also includes the approved purpose-built TV Studios for the University of Reading, also designed by Scott Brownrigg. These projects add to the practice's growing work and expertise within the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport sector.'

Future Cities Forum would like to thank its contributors to this important debate - which also included input from the Barbican, Rochester Cathedral, Leighton House Museum & Gallery, The British Library, MICA Architects, BDP, Buro Happold and Sir Simon Jenkins.


Recent Posts
bottom of page