19 November 2020

Manufacturer’s slate flooring used in yet another gallery at the iconic venue.

Bespoke slabs of Welsh Slate flooring have helped the British Museum make a successful move of one of its galleries to a larger home.

The new Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World features more than 250m2 of Welsh Slate’s 20mm-thick Cwt-Y-Bugail dark blue grey floor tiles as specified by architects Stanton Williams.

The slate floor was installed across both rooms of the gallery by specialist contractor WB Simpson & Sons for Coniston, the museum’s framework contractor for more than 10 years.

The British Museum’s Islamic collection comprises a broad and diverse spectrum of the material culture produced from the 7th Century to the present day in the Islamic world, a series of regions stretching from West Africa to South-East Asia.

The relocation of the collection’s display from the John Addis Islamic Gallery on the ground floor of the museum to the restored grand spaces of the White Wing offered the opportunity to display a wider range of objects than had been possible before.

From archaeological material to contemporary art, paintings and vessels made for royal patrons to evocative objects of daily life, the new gallery brings together the stories of interconnected worlds across time and geography.

Funded by the Malaysia-based Albukhary Foundation, the new gallery at the heart of the museum sits within two beautiful and historic 6m-high rooms on the first floor that had been previously closed to visitors.

Arranged around two sides of an internal lightwell, five new external openings have been created which allow filtered daylight to enter through traditionally crafted interlocking screens, permitting views of the outside world.

Stanton Williams associate Sanjay Ghodke said: “While respecting the historic fabric of the building, our redesign of the gallery sought to unlock any latent potential in the architecture of the space.”

The new floors are for the most part finely rubbed slabs of Welsh Slate, in 50 different sizes ranging from 473mm to 1,200mm but predominately 500mm x 1,000mm, which were cut to the sizes required by Stanton Williams at Welsh Slate’s Cwt-Y-Bugail quarry in Snowdonia.

It took a team of half a dozen operatives from WB Simpson & Sons six weeks to lay more than 800 pieces in a broken bond layout with silicon-filled movement joints. All this around a central feature of wood panelling separated from the slate by cast-iron heating grills.

Senior estimating manager Keith Gill said: “It was a bespoke installation, unusual for us. There was nothing standard about any of it. The architects put a lot of time and thought into their design.

“Because of the way the design was intended to look there were a lot of critical indications to achieve. We had to ensure that the joints of each piece of stone had to line up with the corners of the room so there was a lot of team effort engineering and this takes time. We also had to ensure there wasn’t a grouping of colours in any one area, to ensure diversity.”

“It was very time sensitive because the museum only had a short window of opportunity to fit the area out.”

But he added: “I think it is one of the best-looking installations I have seen. When it was cleaned and grouted and sealed it looked fantastic. The way the light hits it makes it look very rich.

“Welsh Slate is a great material. It is extremely hard-wearing and easy to maintain so it was a good choice for the gallery floor.”

And he said of Welsh Slate’s service: “It isn’t a quick process to get this material because you are governed by the quality of the slate they are mining at the time and the conditions up in the mountains. But Welsh Slate gave us very professional service. I can’t fault them.”

WB Simpson & Sons previously worked with Stanton Williams and Purcell architects to install Welsh Slate in the museum’s Waddesdon Bequest gallery. Click here for more information on that project.

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