New Sainsbury Wing designs (ctd.)

August 11 2022

Image of New Sainsbury Wing designs (ctd.)

Picture: Twitter

There's been some striking news about the National Gallery's new designs for their £30m Sainsbury Wing makeover (background on AHN here). The original architect of the space, opened in 1991, Denise Scott Brown, has called for the plans to be scrapped. She made the intervention in a call to the architectural writer Hugh Pearman, who posted the news in the below tweet.

Where does this leave us? Presumably, if anyone heeds Denise Scott Brown's call there will be a bit of a row as the development goes into the planning application process (which as far as I can see has not begun). Here's a new article in Architecture Today by Richard Pain, which calls the changes 'deeply regrettable'. It's unlikely permission will be refused by Westminster Council, and in any case time is tight - the refurbishment is supposed to be finished in time for the Gallery's 200th anniversary in 2024. But the Sainsbury Wing is already Grade 1 listed, so there may be some intervention from other parties, such as Historic England (but again I think this is unlikely).

Personally, I can see the logic in retaining the original entrance. Yes, it was a little dark and crypt-like, but that was the intention of the original architectural vision, as part of the experience before you went upstairs to the really beautiful, spacious and well lit galleries. Also, there's no doubt the Sainsbury Wing entrance today - with its in your face shop and lobby clutter - is a long way from the original vision. Perhaps we should try going back to that first.

But more significantly, it seems to me this is a battle the National Gallery doesn't need to fight, and an expense it doesn't need to incur. I find it slightly bemusing that some museums still think part of the answer to get people to visit their museums is to continually tinker with the front door. In fact, the problems of people feeling reluctant to visit go much deeper. If you've got millions to spend, spend it on that instead.

Update - the planning papers are now online, and you can see all the proposed changes in full here. Hugh Pearman has had a look, and, on Twitter, says:

The interventions into a Grade 1 listed building are extraordinarily intrusive and damaging...

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