Transforming the home of the humanities and social sciences

8 Jul 2022

The British Academy has today announced a major building programme to enable it to reach, nurture and connect more leading thinkers and curious minds than ever before in its 120-year history.

The UK’s national Academy for the humanities and social sciences, established in 1902, will undertake a major re-design of its building in London led by Wright & Wright, an architecture firm specialising in educational and cultural institutions. The scheme will centre on the addition of the latest hybrid event technology, allowing an interested public throughout the world to connect with the work of the Academy.

The £9 million development, aided by a lead £5 million grant from the Wolfson Foundation, will transform a warren of corridors and rooms in the Academy’s lower floors into three, double-height event spaces technologically equipped for conferences, lectures, workshops, festivals, and performances. This follows a significant uptake in online and hybrid events post-pandemic from the academic community and event-going public.

As specialists in reconciling historic buildings for the future age, Wright & Wright architects have designed an innovative plan that will provide contemporary spaces that complement the historic details in the rest of the Grade 1 listed building. Furthermore, with awards in sustainability and eco-conscious design, the firm have succeeded in providing the British Academy with a greener future. This includes air source heat pumps providing carbon-free heating and the building will be the first Grade 1 listed property in Westminster to be granted permission to install double glazing, allowing for better climate control, and all heating will be carbon-free.

Built for technology, the new event spaces will help enable the Academy to broadcast its programming beyond London, across the UK, reaching an ever wider and more diverse audience.  The upgrade of the building will facilitate the wider transformation strategy for the Academy which will be published later this year.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said:

“For 120 years, the British Academy has brought together the leading minds in the humanities and social sciences and championed the vital role of these disciplines in understanding our world and shaping a brighter future.

“As we move into our next 12 decades, we will have a vibrant home for the humanities and social sciences which is both physical, in the heart of London, and virtual with the ability to connect with academics, researchers, policymakers and an interested public across the world. We are very grateful to the Wolfson Foundation for providing us with the lead grant of £5 million, and hope this will inspire other funders to play their part in creating this global platform.”

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation said: 

“We are delighted to be making this significant investment in the humanities and social sciences. It reflects the importance we place on these disciplines – both for their intrinsic value, and because of the variety of benefits they bring to society.

“The UK has long been a leader in research and scholarship, and the British Academy continues to play a crucial role in supporting the most brilliant and interesting thinkers of our generation.

“It is great pleasure to be working in partnership with the Academy on this important project.”

Stephen Smith, a partner at Wright & Wright, said:

“The design will unlock existing, underused spaces, transforming the historic building for the future and enabling the Academy to serve growing audiences. Our low energy solution is based on an innovative approach that exemplifies our firm's core tenets of building new into old sustainably, with a low carbon footprint and environmentally conscious designs that will last well into the future.

“Reacting to post-Covid realities, this transformation will create flexible rooms for new ways of meeting and sharing in digital, hybrid and in-person formats. We are honoured to help shape the evolution of the rich architectural and social history of the British Academy.”

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432.

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