Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China
and South Asia, The British Museum

Nissen Richards acted as Lead Consultant, Architect, Exhibition Designer and Graphic Designers for this new gallery. At 115 metres long, Room 33 is the longest gallery at the British Museum, and has displayed its collection of Chinese and South Asian antiquities for over a century, alongside the Jade Gallery. Overall the gallery contains over 5,000 objects in a reimagined exhibition filled with imagery, stories and colour.

On arrival, the visitors enters an orientation space in the centre; one half of the gallery presents the histories of China; the other half South Asia. A set of timelines surrounding the central oculus proposes the chronological journey one can take within each of the regions.

The new design reframes the old architecture to provide a narrative-led route through the gallery. Red columns mark the rich history and culture of China, and a bright peacock blue represents the life of South Asia. Each of the 32 bays of the gallery is demarcated by a title fin and provides a backdrop for an era, culture or theme. Welcoming the audience into each bay is a new bespoke pendant light fitting in patinated brass and quartzite, emphasizing the repetitive rhythm of the architecture.

The original listed mahogany showcases were redesigned through discussions with furniture restorers and English Heritage, in order to seamlessly accommodate two new doors, and laminated anti-glare glass. Though this new design, each one is able to offer a narrative triptych: a central gateway object introducing the theme with full-size contextual imagery, flanked on both sides by a bespoke display of supporting artefacts. Object labelling is contained in a self-illuminating strip, and moved to the edges of the vitrines, so that the displays can be enjoyed fully.

Patinated brass is repetitively used to highlight key interpretational devices: gallery introductions, star objects and AV interactives. In addition, a new unearthly green patina was developed with a local specialist, to mark the gateway into a separate gallery of Jade antiquities.

We worked with a team of consultants including: Lighting Design - Studio ZNA; M&E Engineers: TGA Consulting Engineers; Structural Engineers: Alan Baxter

Photography: Jim Stephenson