Warburg Renaissance: Interview with Haworth Tompkins Project Architect Elizabeth Flower

The Warburg Renaissance is our grand ambition for transforming the Warburg Institute. We want to make the Warburg easier to find, more comfortable to use, enhance the Institute’s academic resources and public offerings, and create new facilities for special collections, exhibitions, and events.

In this blog post, we chatted to Elizabeth Flower, Project Architect from Haworth Tompkins, about the proposed architectural designs (currently awaiting planning permission) to find out more:

Can you tell us a bit about the proposed design and the benefits it will bring?

Our designs intend to hold on to the much-loved character and lived-in feel of the existing building, while also giving it a new lease of life, to enable it to grow and flourish long into the future. About 70% of the existing building will be refurbished internally and a two-storey extension will be built in the courtyard. Additionally, the external façade will be cleaned, the roof replaced, and a new heating system installed throughout.

The ground and lower ground floors will undergo the most significant change, becoming more accessible with a new café area, experimental display area and enhanced lecture theatre. As a result, these spaces will provide new amenities to bring the Institute body together, and will welcome in and educate a wider external audience.

The Archive and Photographic Collection will be relocated into new, purpose-designed spaces and will benefit from a new shared top-lit reading room within the courtyard extension. The Library will be expanded on the upper floors to allow for 20 years of future growth of the collection and total reinstatement of Aby Warburg’s cataloguing system.

What are your inspirations for the current design?

It goes without saying that the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, now the Warburg Haus in Hamburg, has been a constant point of reference when contemplating how to continue Aby Warburg’s legacy. We also have great respect for the building’s original architect Charles Holden and have continually questioned how he might have approached this project. The designs of some of the spaces in Senate House and 55 Broadway have therefore been extremely influential. 

We have also looked at Lina Bo Bardi’s São Paulo Museum of Art for the innovative new display space, Niall Mclaughlin’s Nazrin Shah Centre and Gatti Routh Rhodes BGMC building for the new lecture theatre auditorium aesthetic, and Peter Zumthor’s Kolumba museum for the delightful use of textured grey brick.

Lina Bo Bardi’s São Paulo Museum of Art
Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, by Niall Mclaughlin
BGMC building, by Gatti-Routh-Rhodes

What are you most excited about in the proposed building design?

We’ve created a series of internal views to give a sense of transition and connection between spaces, including the entrance foyer, lecture theatre and reading rooms, which I hope will be really dynamic and exciting. Additionally, the reader’s spaces in the two new lightwells should also be a particular moment of joy within the building.

Architectural model of one of the lightwells

Have there been any challenges in putting together the design?

Balancing the conflicting requirements of books and people – environmentally, spatially and financially – they rarely appear to see eye to eye!

The design of the courtyard extension also posed a challenge in resolving the tension between new and old. We wanted to ensure the new parts feel distinct but still fit comfortably with the existing building.

What other building projects have you worked on that you are most proud of and why?

I’ve worked on a variety of projects, from housing to university buildings to artist’s studios, but I have to say that the Warburg Renaissance is probably the closest to my heart.

Designing a new home for the Bede House; a youth and learning disability charity in Southwark, was an incredibly rewarding and interesting process. What I love most about architecture is its ability to transform people’s daily lives – it’s a careful balancing act of understanding the human needs of the users and transforming them into beautiful buildings.

Bede Centre, by Haworth Tompkins
Bede Centre, by Haworth Tompkins

Bede Centre, by Haworth Tompkins

Find out more about the Warburg Renaissance