For about 300 years, Westminster Abbey has seen little if no architectural change at all. This period, however, is about to come to an end. The local council has agreed to add the first new tower in 270 years. Thus, the famous world heritage site of Westminster Abbey is set for a revamp.
What is the project?
This project consists in adding a new tower that will be used as a museum and an exhibition hall (with royal funeral effigies alongside some silverware and stonework too). On an architectural and artistic level, what the architect of the tower Ptomely Dean had in mind was to keep the “historic fabric of the Abbey”, while revealing some new “treasures”, enhancing the exhibition of a stupendous cultural heritage. So, the tower will not dramatically change the external shape or appearance of the Abbey since it will be built in a very narrow space next to it. The total operation cost will amount to £18.9m of which almost £11m have already been raised and constuction should be over by the end of 2018.
What is the meaning of it?
Still, there is a real symbolic objective to this project. First of all, building the tower is a way of paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth who celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The Abbey originally planned to add a corona – a £10m crown-shaped roof – over the altar where she was crowned in 1953 but the idea was eventually abandoned. Instead, it was decided to build the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the new tower as a token of this event.
Another important aspect of this is how cultural memory can be enshrined and how British institutions manage to maintain a link between some old values – such as the monarchy, the Queen or the Church – and some kind of modernity by renewing these in order to symbolically keep in touch with the people. What Rev John Hall, Dean of Westminster, stated illustrates that perfectly: “We are delighted that our proposals for the new tower and for opening the eastern Triforium to the public have the support of Westminster City Council, reflecting that of our local community and of other bodies concerned for the preservation of the local and national heritage”.
Nathan DUFOUR & Louise LAVAUD