Victoria & Albert Museum's New Wing, Knightsbridge, London
Victoria & Albert Museum
The new Exhibition Road Quarter adds another rich chapter to the history and architecture of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Serving as a new entrance for the museum and helping to make sense of the labyrinth of buildings that make up the museum.
The London based architect Amanda Levete, has taken on the challenge, and it must have been a challenge, of providing one very large gallery where temporary exhibitions can be staged. The only way to accommodate such scale in this cramped museum district was to put it below ground. The remarkable thing is that all of this was undertaken whilst the museum remained open and fully operational.
The result that Levete has delivered is a combination of new public spaces and gallery. The space above the new gallery is a courtyard of handcrafted porcelain tiles, echoing the use of ceramics in all of the earlier buildings making up the V&A. A sea of creamy white porcelain tiles; intriguing and stark in the sun light; inscribed with graphic lines leading you towards the museum. Lavette has made something subtler here than other architects had proposed, her design is more approachable, bringing the V&A into the 21st Century.
The gallery below - the Sackler Gallery - is a batcave of space. Entirely unimpeded by columns thanks to the origami style roof structure, made of pleated steel plates, the gallery is a vast expanse with light pouring in through the angular sky lights, providing a church like atmosphere.
The staircase connecting the gallery to the museum and the courtyard is my favourite part. Turning and turning again, leading you down in to the exhibition space beneath. Overhead, a glazed skylight pours natural light into the space, making the linear engineering plate of bright red glow, almost neon. It is a theatrical descent, glossy black, like polished lacquer, providing a vertical promenade to people watch and enjoy the play of light and shadow as people wander past, heads tilted up in awe of the space around them.