V&A extension unveiled
THE largest and most ambitious architectural intervention at the V&A in London SW7 for a century was unveiled last week. In an audacious feat of engineering that has transformed the west side of the museum, to the tune of nearly £55 million, a forgotten courtyard has been excavated to create a vast, subterranean gallery and re-paved with 11,000 handmade porcelain tiles as an informal approach to a new entrance hall.
The six-year project succeeds where previous, much-vaunted schemes— notably Henry Cole’s 1868 viewing tower and Daniel Libeskind’s controversial 1990s Spiral—failed. The new gallery is a flexible, hangarlike space with a dramatic palette, cutting-edge detail and theatrical lighting eminently suited (despite appalling acoustics) to hosting the V&A’S increasingly popular blockbuster exhibitions.
A sleek black staircase descends into the column-free space, which is toplit through an innovative corrugated ceiling by five roof lights that project into the courtyard above with the same angular geometry as the cafe. The great stone colonnade along the street, built by Aston Webb in 1909 to screen the museum’s boilers, has been opened up to draw the public into the courtyard, creat- ing a vista through the new entrance hall to the John Madejski Garden beyond.
The architect, Amanda Levete of AL_A, emphasises the urban significance of this project in the way it integrates the museum with the cultural artery of Exhibition Road. Its sharpedged aesthetic may be very different, the whiteness almost blinding, but the new Exhibition Road Quarter will reinvigorate Prince Albert’s vision for a campus of the Arts and sciences, as well as providing one of Europe’s largest temporary exhibition galleries. Mary Miers
The V&A has transformed a forgotten courtyard into an ambitious new underground space