The V&A has always been one of my favourite museums, no other place houses so many beautiful objects and curiosities and such a variety of beautifully designed items. There is something new to discover in every corner and each time I visit I discover some new treasure to admire.
The area of South Kensington which houses the museums is lovingly referred to as Albertropolis, owing to the cluster of museums, being the brainchild of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. This includes the wonderful V&A a museum which celebrates all forms of art and design.
I often think of Prince Albert and his vision for the museum and how pleased he would be to see it enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. And I feel he would definitely approve of the latest addition to the museum. This week sees the launch of a new entrance, a new courtyard for visitors to relax in and an inspiring new exhibition space to house the museums temporary exhibitions. Collectively these new spaces are known as The Exhibition Road Quarter.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to see the new spaces before the opening this Friday. We were introduced to the project and shown round by curators and architects who worked on the new areas and I was blown away by the impressive finished space.
Having not previously had an entrance on Exhibition Road, alongside the Natural History Museum and The Science Museum, the V&A were keen to open up an area that had previously been home to a boiler house. Visitors to the museum have increased to over 8 million in recent years, so a new entrance was a necessity. Architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A won the project and got to work creating a space that is both functional and unique.
The new area is accessed from the street via The Aston Web Screen. This was formally a high and domineering wall, blocking views of the boiler house that had previously been on the site. The wall bore the scars of shrapnel damage from a WW2 bomb that had fallen near by. After a lot of hard work to get planning permission, the wall was opened up into columns, to allow visitors to walk in from the street. The new gates within the colonade were fabricated to include impressions of the original damage, paying homage to the past. I loved this design element, which is very in the spirit of the V&A.
Once you have passed through the impressive new colonnade, you are greeted by The Sackler Courtyard, the first porcelain courtyard in the world. This beautiful space is paved with 11,000 handmade tiles, which were inspired by the rich tradition of ceramics at the museum. The area also houses a new cafe. I absolutely love the contrast between the ornate Victorian building and the clean curves and bright modernity of the new tiled courtyard. Its wonderful to see external walls and features of the original building that were previously hidden away as well.
The Sackler Courtyard, V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow
Past the courtyard you will find the new entrance to the museum The Blavatnik Hall. This lovely open space has glass walls bringing you a view into the museum garden. This area really brings the museum together and makes other areas of the museum far more accessible.
You can then reach the new exhibition space down a winding modern staircase. The huge open expanse that greets you as you enter the Sainsbury Gallery is breathtaking. It is built directly under the courtyard and creating a column free open space of this size, below ground is a hugely impressive feat of engineering. The hall is lit from above by skylights which also allow you to see in from the courtyard. I loved seeing peeps of the Victorian building above us. This was a rare opportunity to see the gallery empty. As it will be the home of the museums major temporary exhibitions it will usually be divided off by partitions.
At the event we had the chance to sample some of the lovely food from Benugo, that will be served in the courtyard cafe. This would be a great place to share coffee and a cake with friends or stop off for a delicious lunch. I’ve always really liked the other food areas at the museum and I think this is going to be another I’ll really enjoy visiting.
A special mention must also be made for the loos. I always judge a place by the quality of the facilities and all the visitors were blown away by the clean lines and stylish pink walls. No area of the new addition isn’t completely design focussed, this is the V&A after all. Both male and female toilets also have baby changing facilities, which I know makes life much easier for parents visiting with littles ones.
I really enjoyed my visit and really felt inspired by the light, design and creativity of the space. I loved the daring architecture, which begins its own chapter in the history of the museum, rather than just continuing the existing one. I love that its brings something completely new to a much-loved building without needing to emulate it. Most of all I love the idea of people visiting these new areas, making memories and having fun.
To celebrate the opening of the new spaces, the museum is hosting a week-long free public festival. Reveal offers the public the chance to experience the spaces before they host their first exhibitions this Autumn. There will plenty to see for all ages including art, fashion and family activities.
I would really recommend a visit, just to appreciate the amazing architecture and engineering behind this impressive project. I’m definitely looking forward to returning and seeing how the spaces are used in the future.
You can find out all about the museum, the festival and the new areas on the V&A website.
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