diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a new entrance.

They've called it Exhibition Road Quarter. It's simultaneously more impressive than you're expecting, and less good.

The Duchess of Cambridge opened it last Friday, a new gateway to a new courtyard to a new entrance to some new rooms. It faces Exhibition Road, almost immediately opposite the back entrance to the Natural History Museum. Don't come via the subway from the tube station or you'll miss it, or if you do, come up one staircase early.

This was originally the boiler house, shielded from view by a masonry screen, then in the 1970s the machinery was removed and the space filled in with staff accommodation blocks. This wasn't the most productive use of valuable land, so the V&A decided to build more gallery space instead. In 1998 architect Daniel Libeskind came up with 'the Spiral', a radical design resembling a stack of crumpled boxes, which divided public opinion, failed to raise sufficient funding and was eventually axed. Over a decade later its somewhat less ambitious replacement is now open to the public... and is mostly empty space.

The original Edwardian masonry screen remains, now opened up so you can walk through the arches, but capable of being sealed off by perforated aluminium gates when the museum's closed. Beyond this, in the quadrangle where you might have thought they'd have built something, is a large courtyard with a sliver of a cafe along one edge. It's an arrestingly impressive space. Everything looks very white because this is "the world's first all-porcelain public courtyard", a peculiar concept intended to reflect the V&A's magnificent collection of ceramics. The tiles are ridged with parallel stripes and other geometric patterns, are hopefully non-slip, and already don't look as white as they presumably started out.

There are two routes to the main entrance, either straight ahead and down some steps, or branching off down a ramp to the side. Between the two is an angled wedge which swiftly morphs from "quite safe to walk on" to "a bit treacherous", because the off-white colour conceals the gradient. Beyond this is a mirrored opening which acts as a lightwell to the basement space below, and also flashes with a triangular pattern resembling alligator teeth, as if begging to have its photo taken. Other than this oculus (and the cafe I mentioned) there's not much here... but it will be a lovely space for the V&A to scatter with temporary sculptures, or to seal off for a coffer-filling cocktail party.
Officially this is the Sackler Courtyard, paid for out of the same philanthropic bucket as the Sackler Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy, the Sackler Library at the Bodleian, the Sackler Library at the Design Museum, the Sackler Library at the City & Guilds, the Sackler Crossing in Kew Gardens, the Sackler Hall at the Museum of London, the Sackler Octagon at Tate Britain and the Sackler Institute for Translational Neurodevelopment at King's College.

The new entrance hall is the ground floor of one wing of the original building, an offshoot of the main galleries, but has been stripped out to create a mostly-empty circulation space. Here V&A staff hover to meet, greet and check bags, while the job of selling tickets has been automated by what's described as a "unique self-service ticketing experience". I had a go at using the giant touch screens to see if I could book a ticket to the Pink Floyd exhibition, purely to try the system out, and three minutes later was still trapped in subroutine hell trying to get the glass to respond to my fingers. A nice man came over and showed me how to press properly, then walked away and left me to it, but I still couldn't advance to the final screen, so I walked away and saved £20.
Officially this is the Blatnavik Hall, paid for out of the same philanthropic bucket as the Blatnavik Building (formerly Switch House) at Tate Modern and the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford.

Turn right and you enter familiar parts of the museum, specifically the very-long Sculpture gallery, whereas all the new stuff is to the left, mostly downwards. A new shop has been squeezed in, plus a coat check, plus a new suite of toilets (the gents is decorated in a stereotype-smashing shade of pastel pink, I can report), plus an attractive pair of entwined wooden staircases. These are here to lead down to the unexpected extra gallery below the courtyard, a vast room with no supporting pillars, deftly excavated during the construction period.
Officially this is the Sainsbury Gallery, paid for out of the same philanthropic bucket as the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, the Sainsbury Galleries at the British Museum, the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia and the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL.

The new gallery is very empty. For opening week a sonic exhibit called 'Partials' is booming out from a set of speakers, a light show called 'Shade' is filtering ambient light through the skylight, plus there's an aluminium bench called 'Aluminium Bench'. The combination is shamelessly minimalist, more the kind of barren void you'd expect at Tate Modern, but it'll make a nice Instagram post. Ultimately the V&A intend to use their 1100 square metre basement for the display of temporary exhibitions, presumably the kinds of blockbuster they're currently charging £20 for elsewhere, plus it'll be ideal for drinks receptions, project launches and catwalk shows.

I love the V&A because it's crammed with so much gorgeous "stuff", but Exhibition Road Quarter hasn't been developed to display stuff, it's been developed to generate income. A courtyard with event potential, an additional cafe, an additional shop, and a gallery space targeted at paid-for exhibitions and private hire - that's all we're getting here. The architecture's photogenic, so visitors will find much to fill their social media feeds. But those who truly love design will want to be elsewhere, exploring the Albertopolis warren for the real treasures.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards