The Exhibition Road Quarter is a landmark project for one of the world’s greatest museums of art and design. The scheme is the largest building project undertaken by the V&A in over 100 years and comprises a new entrance, courtyard and exhibition gallery. Since opening, the V&A’s visitor numbers are up by 26% on the previous year and there are now over 4.4m annual visitors to the V&A. The Museum’s Director, Tristram Hunt, said that the less intimidating point of entry “is much more attractive to non-traditional museum goers... It is less, frankly, scary.”
We conceived the Exhibition Road Quarter as an urban not just a cultural project. We reframed the relationship between Exhibition Road and the Museum, creating a less formal, more public place that is as much of the street as it is of the Museum. It attracts and welcomes in new audiences, making ideas of accessibility and democracy very explicit. The V&A is now more visibly outward-looking, more a part of the city and an institution that engages with contemporary life. It has redefined the face of the Museum and turned it through 90 degrees, giving it a lasting presence on Exhibition Road, reshaping the way visitors enter and experience the V&A.
A new courtyard creates an exceptional place for London — an outdoor room of the Museum, a destination in its own right and a place for installations and events. But above all, it is a place for appropriation by the public. The courtyard gives an intuitive understanding of the V&A. It radically alters perceptions of the Museum and how its layout is understood by the visitor. It changes the visitor journey through the V&A, bringing them to more places and allowing them to discover more of the collections.
The paradox of the project, that the gallery space is hidden below ground, was resolved by the concept of making visible the invisible. The pattern of the courtyard tiles being derived from the geometry of the gallery ceiling structure. Taking inspiration from both the V&A’s rich ceramics collection, and from its powerful mission of marrying arts and craft with design and industry, we have created the world’s first porcelain courtyard.
The descent to the gallery is celebrated as an important part of the visitor’s journey, woven into the historic fabric of the existing Museum. Visitors are drawn down by natural light, lessening until reaching the bottom where an uplifting pool of daylight appears, seemingly magically so far below ground. Descent and ascent have been kept separate, designed with a specific focus on the theatre of the journey and the interplay between new and old.
The vast 1,100 m2 subterranean gallery is the new home for a full programme of temporary exhibitions that exceeds the highest international standards for touring exhibits. It is neither a black box nor a white cube, but instead its expression is a response to the history of the V&A through its buildings as much as its collection. The vast column-free space is designed to provide maximum curatorial freedom, yet follows the V&A’s twin traditions of melding function with decoration. The expression of the ceiling is derived entirely from its structural function of spanning 38m uninterrupted and soars up to 10m over the visitor despite being beneath the courtyard.
Type Museum: Creation of a gallery, courtyard, café, a new entrance & technical spaces
Location: London, UK
Area: 6,360 m2 / 68,460 ft2
Completion Date: June 2017
Client: Victoria & Albert Museum
Design Lead: AL_A (Amanda Levete / Alice Dietsch / Matthew Wilkinson)