The Ashmolean Museum, established in 1683, is the oldest museum in Britain. The new building is attached to the rear of the Greek revival building by Charles Robert Cockerell, built in 1845 as The University Galleries. The Ashmolean Museum relocated its collection to the extended University Galleries in 1894 and in 1908 combined to become The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, under the keepership of the renowned archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.
Its collections are among the most varied and extensive in the country. It possesses the most important collection of pre-Dynastic Egyptian material outside Cairo, the only great collection of Minoan antiquities outside Heraklion, the largest and most important collection of Raphael drawings in the world and the greatest Anglo Saxon collections outside the British Museum.
The new scheme involves the removal of the poor existing Victorian buildings behind the Cockerell building-built to house a rapidly growing collection under Evans, and later piecemeal accretions. These combined to give a very confusing route for the museum visitor. The new building has six storeys, with a floor area of 9000m² (29,500 sq.ft), 4000m² (13,100 sq.ft) of which provides 100 per cent more display space. In addition to the new display space a new entrance from St Giles, and an Education Centre, Conservation studios and loading bay are also created. The new museum space is built to modern standards, using an environmentally aware and efficient servicing strategy.
The new building can hardly be seen from the street and most importantly is invisible behind the existing Cockerell building. However, once inside visitors enter a large, light central atrium featuring a grand staircase with five gently curving flights flowing up from the atrium to the top floor. The new building is organised by two major axes established by Cockerell in 1845, creating a clear route through the building and unifying the entire museum and collection in a coherent manner. A curatorial strategy was developed through the building design that allows different narratives for object interpretation depending on the chosen route through the building. Two staircase lightwells are naturally lit with large windows and roof lights. Natural light is filtered vertically through the building to the lower ground level via inter-connecting, double-height galleries. A new rooftop restaurant terrace gives views over the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford. Ashmolean was awarded an RIBA Award 2010.