New architectural project launched to rejuvenate London’s National Gallery

London’s National Gallery announces plans for a £25-30 million upgrade project, which will be partially finished by the institution’s 200th anniversary in 2024.

The work will include reorganising the Sainsbury Wing lobby, adding a new research centre and improving the outdoor space on the edge of Trafalgar Square. Completed in 1991, the Sainsbury Wing was never built to handle the nearly six million visitors that descended upon the National Gallery in 2019 alone.

Gabriele Finaldi, the gallery’s director, said “the dual challenge of a huge increase in visitor numbers and the changing expectations and needs of those visitors over the last 30 years means we do need to look again at the spaces we have, and in particular the ground floor entrances and amenities.”

An international competition has been launched to find a design-led team to bring the museum into the 21st century, dubbed the NG200 project. “We haven’t gone out to look for a design but for a designer,” explained Finaldi. “I’d like to keep an open mind, and I hope for some good ideas about how we can make the gallery more responsive.”

Malcolm Reading, chairman of Malcolm Reading Consultants who are running the competition’s selection process, revealed “the process chosen by the National Gallery is not a conventional design competition seeking design concepts, but instead creates the opportunity for much more interaction ‒ something the gallery values and we know architects appreciate.”

Work in the gallery will be phased over the next five years in order to keep the majority of its spaces still open to the public. During the closure of the temporary exhibition galleries in the basement, exhibitions will be held in the Wilkins building instead. The completed refurbishment of the Sainsbury Wing is scheduled for May 2024 in time to celebrate 200 years since the gallery was founded in 1824.

Whilst tourism in London has dropped dramatically due the outbreak of coronavirus, Finaldi remains hopefully that the culture sector can and will bounce back. The capitol city “will always be an attractive destination—and we want to be part of the recovery,” declared Finaldi, adding “the next five years will see us fighting our way out of the crisis—building on our strengths.

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