British Museum revamp contest faces boycott over BP backing

As our institutions fail us, solidarity between workers, communities and the environment becomes more important by the day. The British Museum’s renewed deal with BP shows how activist organising must be coupled with sustained worker organising to stop companies and institutions from rolling back their promises at the first opportunity.

The deal was announced after the museum appeared to have ended its long-running sponsorship deal with BP after 27 years last year. Other UK cultural institutions such as the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and Royal Shakespeare Company are among those institutions known to have turned down such sponsorship.

‘In the context of cascading ecological collapse, it is completely indefensible for architects to knowingly work with the most blatant perpetrators of climate destruction. Such donations by oil companies are transparent acts of reputation washing and any architect with the slightest pretence of social concern must refuse to become complicit.’

Applications for a procurement consultant to manage the competition remain open until 2 February.

We urge anyone working on this competition to speak with us about organising their office to boycott the British Museum so long as [the museum is] committed to accelerating the destruction of our climate.


The museum’s announcement of its partnership with BP late last year prompted the resignation of trustee Muriel Gray, the former chair of the Mackintosh School of Art in Glasgow.

The 7,500m² redevelopment focuses on the British Museum’s Western Range, which includes collections from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. It will introduce ‘contemporary architecture and innovative gallery displays, alongside sensitivity towards the need to respect and restore the highly significant and celebrated listed buildings on the site’, the museum says.

A British Museum spokesperson said: ‘The British Museum is in urgent need of renovation, and the masterplan will be one of the most significant cultural redevelopments ever undertaken and private funding is essential.

Activist theatre collective BP or not BP? highlighted in an Instagram post on Friday (12 January) how, by signing up to Architects Declare, more than 1,300 practices had committed to ‘weighing up all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage [their] clients to adopt this approach’.

Signing up to Architects Declare alone is not the systemic action we need to prevent climate disaster. As part of Unite, we share a union with construction and offshore workers. We need a network of action running from the climate activists at the front line, to architectural and construction workers walking off these projects, to BP’s employees continuing their industrial actions to transform their employers.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said the deal ‘must surely be one of the biggest, most brazen greenwashing sponsorship deals the sector has ever seen’.

‘ARCHITECTS: we invite you to pledge NOT to work with the British Museum until their new partnership with BP is dropped,’ wrote BP or not BP? in a post shared by Anthropocene Architecture School and others. ‘Architects can’t, in good faith, work with the British Museum until this deal is dropped.’

‘The British Museum has committed to greenwashing BP for a further 10 years, while it pours millions into exploration for new oil and gas that we can’t afford to burn if we want a liveable planet.’

The contest seeks to receive the ‘most exciting proposals from across the globe, with a particular focus on expertise in sustainability’, the British Museum says. But activists point out that the scheme’s funder, BP, is responsible for trading four billion barrels of crude oil a year – 20 per cent of world trade of the fossil fuel.

It continued: ‘[Architects’] own commitments demonstrate how architecture firms can’t in good faith work on redevelopment funded by a fossil fuel giant. From Iraq to the Gulf Coast, marginalised communities around the world bear the brunt of BP’s toxic gas flaring and oil spills, while execs and shareholders keep raking in record profits.

Campaign groups are calling on architects not to take part in the renovation contest amid claims of greenwashing, and because of the built environment sector’s widespread commitment to addressing the climate emergency through platforms such as Architects Declare.

According to the notice – which estimates the contract value at £100,000 – the winner will host and run a restricted contest procedure under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. The evaluation methodology for the appointment of the design team has already been developed and approved by the museum’s masterplan committee.

Future Architects Front (FAF) has backed the calls for a boycott. A spokesperson told the AJ: ‘We fully support calls for architects to reject commissions funded with oil money.

The boycott is also being backed by the Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) trade union, now part of Unite (see box below).

News emerged earlier this month of a planned competition to redesign around a third of the Bloomsbury-based museum, as part of a 10-year partnership with the fossil fuel giant to renovate and redevelop the site to create ‘[one of the] most significant cultural redevelopment projects ever undertaken’.

‘It’s disappointing campaign groups are calling for a boycott when we’ve said we will be looking at design proposals with a particular focus on sustainable and environmental expertise, working with us responsibly to create a net zero estate. We look forward to seeing submissions that aim to restore the highly significant and celebrated listed buildings on the site.’

Comment: Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) trade union