Saturday, 23 July 2011

Social Entrepreneurship : The British Museum Proposal

 This is an idea based in the concept of social entrepreneurship and seeks to raise funding for a museum through a commercial venture. Think of it as a form of commercial exploitation where a learned institution exploiting commerce to raise funding. This already happens: The Great Court at the British Museum is a separate legal entity to the rest of the museum and a global conglomerate leases and operates the café and restaurant within the space. The thing is, I have two sisters who have worked at the museum and both say that they constantly receive complaints about these operations, so as someone involved in restaurant design with contacts in this area I could see that there was an opportunity.
                 At first I went the route of trying to get a sub-lease on one of these operations, but there is kudos involved for a global conglomerate, so that wasn't an option. I then looked at trying to find a space within the museum, but they need more space and are trying to build an extension. So, I had to think of it another way.
                   Visitors numbers for the British Museum in 2012 are predicted to be in excess of six million visitors so there is a captive audience and as the Great Court can get hot and stuffy many prefer to sit outside when the weather is good. So, I looked at placing a temporary pavilion outside the main entrance on the East lawn, positioned so that it does not have an impact on the front entrance.

              To present any proposal the figures have to balance. So, I looked at how this would break down: A café/restaurant that served alcohol in this location might reasonably expect to turn over £15,000 per week. Multiply by 52 weeks gives a total of £780,000 = 2.6% of visitors spending £5. So, if we estimate an approximate build cost of £200,000 we would arrive at £580,000. Subtract a rent of at least £60,000 (it may be possible to negotiate this to (£100,000) and (working on £60,000) would give a figure of £520,000. Deduct approximately £40,000 for legal fees etc., planning and conservation permissions and other expenses, this figure is reduced to £480,000.
               If we allow say £100,000 for additional running costs, then we are looking at a clear profit before tax of £380,000 in the first year. And as the building is moveable, if the operator wants, after the first year they can take it away and sell it. Or, if it's popular, negotiate another year. In austere times of volatile investment this could look like a relatively less risky investment.
For the museum, they get £60-100,000 to add to their yearly budget and all they have to do is reach an agreement. In addition to this there is a proposal for a profit sharing agreement on profits in excess of £100,000.

Originally I thought of the building as a sculptural object, but the British Museum is Listed Grade I and as anything in this location would require Planning and Listed Building consent and this would need to be obtained with the minimum of fuss. So, something was needed that did not try to compete with the main building, that could be seen as part of it and yet was distinctive enough to attract visitors without the need for signage.

 The pavilion is sited a little like the temple of Athene Nike on the Acropolis in its relationship to the main building, playing a game with the reference embedded there. So, from the street the wall of 360° revolving aerofoil doors contain, on one side, resin panels of the Parthenon marbles, emulating the freeze on the portico. Although this might sound 'tacky', few people might realise that the bust of Rameses in the Great Court, at the entrance to the Egyptian Galleries, is actually a resin replica. This use of the Parthenon panels is also conscientiously contentious and that is good for business.

                          But the front elevation is not static, the doors revolve 360° and the internal panels are fret cut, back illuminated ancient scripts. There is a whole thought process associated with the scripts that I won't go into here – but these panels are presented in a modern way that at night could be very dramatic, illuminating the way with words.
                          The building when viewed from the museum has a very different character: that of a glass cabinet, similar to those inside the museum – only here, the people inside the cabinet are the objects to be observed against a revolving backdrop of classical art and illuminated scripts.

                          The pavilion is designed to be installed in 3 days, so as to avoid fuss at the main entrance to the museum. The factory finished modules are delivered to site in two sections, craned into position and bolted together. The external decking, in pre-formed panels, is then fixed into position. Some on-site finishing would be required, but it is expected that the factory finished module could reduce build costs by 45%.

                 If you have been following this, it is not the aesthetic that is important; the initial decisions in the scheme were only a way of moving the project forward with the minimum of dispute on proposing anything in such a 'sensitive' location. What is important here is the idea: in austere times companies are actively looking for less volatile investment opportunities, museums are looking for funding, and designers are looking for work. So, the idea is for designers to be more pro-active and create the opportunity. The idea works anywhere there is available space and visitor numbers to make the figures balance. Designers! Artists! Architects! Be pro-active: COPY THIS IDEA. Find a local institution that needs funding and propose your own scheme. Viva Social Entrepreneurship! 


    Thanks to Nicolas Durand at Social Entrepreneurship for adding this to the magazine.

    Thanks to Social Entrepreneur magazine for tweeting this post.
    If you are not following them - you should be....
    Thanks also to Conrad Harrison at metamorph96 for the tweet!

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't choose this place to meet up for a would be sure to be packed out and full all the time (as long as the food/drink/service/prices were as good as the design).