V&A ex­ten­sion un­veiled

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata El­wes

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

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