Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A have completed a new porcelain-tiled entrance and underground column free gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, which takes its name after the street it now embraces, comprises an alternative entrance to the museum, as well as extra gallery space and the world’s first porcelain public courtyard — paved in 11,000 handmade tiles.
Formed from the Aston Webb Screen — a listed portland stone structure built in 1909 to hide the museum’s unsightly Victorian boilers — a reconfigured colonnade now serves as a welcoming entrance to the V&A.
The innovative and ambitious project creates beautiful new public spaces and galleries for London, refashioning the experience of the V&A for visitors, and revealing historic facades of the V&A’s existing Grade I listed buildings for the first time.
Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, says: “The completion of the V&A’s Exhibition Road Quarter is a hugely exciting moment for the V&A. Our largest architectural intervention for 100 years revives the pioneering spirit of Albertopolis, reconnecting us to Exhibition Road and our world-class cultural partners. I am delighted to announce 30 June as the public opening of London’s latest cultural landmark. That week we also launch our exciting REVEAL festival, which will celebrate this stunning fusion of history and modernity, art and performance, tradition and innovation – as only the V&A can.”
After winning the competition in 2011, construction began in 2013 and the 2017 opening coincides with the Museum’s 165th anniversary.
The Sackler Courtyard is the world’s first all-porcelain public courtyard, and comprises over 11,000 handmade porcelain tiles, inspired by the rich tradition of ceramics at the V&A. This new public space for London also houses a café with furniture designed for the space by AL_A and manufactured by Moroso. The Sackler Courtyard reveals architecturally significant façades and details that have never previously been seen by the public.
These include sgraffito decoration on the side of the Henry Cole Wing – a decorative Renaissance technique using multiple layers of coloured plaster created by the first art students at the Museum, in the late 19th century. The stonework of the Aston Webb Screen retains the damage that World War II inflicted on the Museum, which is reflected in 11 sets of new metal gates, designed by AL_A. The gates have been manufactured with a pattern of perforations tracing the imprint of the shrapnel damage on the stonework as well as the Royal Crest in the central gate.
The Blavatnik Hall is a new space that will transform how visitors experience and discover the Museum and collections. Connecting the newly displayed Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art and the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Sculpture Galleries, The Blavatnik Hall gives views through to The John Madejski Garden, leads to a new shop, and connects to the historic Ceramic Staircase as well as the Sackler Centre for arts education, which reopens featuring the new John Lyon’s Charity Community Gallery.
The versatile, 1,100m sq column-free Sainsbury Gallery is one of the largest temporary exhibition galleries in the UK. This flexible exhibition space sits above a floor dedicated to art handling, conservation and preparation space. The new spaces reach as far as 18 metres below ground, directly beneath the Western Range of the V&A’s Grade I listed buildings: a daring engineering and construction challenge that is made visible to the public by steel columns and a beam painted in vivid international orange that are literally holding the weight of history and the Museum’s priceless collections above.
all images © Hufton + Crow