National Gallery seeks design team to work on £30 million bicentenary project

A suite of projects are slated to celebrate the gallery’s 200th birthday in 2024, including a new research centre and a redesigned welcome area.

London’s National Gallery is searching for a design team to work with it on a suite of capital projects that will mark the institution’s 200th birthday in 2024.

The design projects will form part of an “inspirational programme” of events, exhibitions and outreach work undertaken by the gallery, with all celebrations under the banner of NG200.

The search will involve a two-stage selection process, run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, with the final team being chosen to deliver the project with a construction value of £25-30 million.

The National Gallery exterior, located on Trafalgar Square. Image courtesy of the National Gallery

“High expectations of what a national museum should offer”

Opened in 1824, the National Gallery is one of the most-visited galleries in the world and welcomes just over 6 million visitors (in a normal pre-pandemic year). It is home to artwork from as early as the 13th century, up to the early 20th century, with a collection that includes paintings from Degas, Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

The work slated to mark it’s 200th anniversary aims to reflect the changing needs of the “contemporary visitor”, according to the National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi.

“The visitor of today, compared with that of thirty years ago, is probably more well-travelled, and has more experience of public institutions and museums around the world than ever,” he says. “They’ll have high expectations of what a national museum should offer, and we need to meet and exceed those expectations at the National Gallery.”

The Sainsbury Wing entrance. Image courtesy of the National Gallery

“A world class entrance that reflects the excellence of the collection”

A significant part of the project will involve the redesign of the Sainsbury Wing entrance and interior. This entryway has been used as the gallery’s main entrance for the last three years because of its ground-level access and large entrance hall area, which provides ample space for security and information services.

“While it does the job, it doesn’t do it as excellently as it could,” says Dr Finaldi. “We want a world class entrance that reflects the excellence of the collection itself.”

The brief for the NG200 design work asks for “sensitive interventions” to the Grade I listed Sainsbury Wing, which was originally opened in 1991 – these include remodelling the front gates and ground floor entrance sequence, interior work to the lobby and first floor spaces and limited interventions in the public realm around the gallery. Additionally, design work is planned to upgrade visitor amenities, like wayfinding and information, retail and security.

“We do need to be sensitive, and it is a natural characteristic of museum staff to be conservative because conserving our collections is what we do,” says Dr Finaldi. “We’re not going to be landing a UFO in the middle of Trafalgar Square, but we do still want to provide visitors with a welcome befitting the heritage of the space and secure its legacy for the future.”

Inside the Sainsbury Wing. Image courtesy of the National Gallery

“Ensure our legacy as we move into our third century of operations”

Additionally, the successful design team will also be tasked with creating a new research centre for the gallery. It isn’t expected that the two large projects – the research centre and the redesigned Sainsbury Wing – will open together.

“One thing we’re really concerned with is the public benefit of our research, and first and foremost in our mind is how we can use a bicentenary celebration to ensure our legacy as we move into our third century of operations,” says Dr Finaldi.

The research undertaken in this space is likely to feed into exhibitions and events, as the gallery seeks to share its understanding of art history, digital humanities, conservation and heritage science with the public. And while the National Gallery has its own in-house team to lead event and exhibition design, future briefs could involve external studios too.

“Exhibitions have become an increasingly important way for us to showcase our research,” he says. “And we’re always keen to work with external people too, to keep our offering refreshed.”

The Sainsbury Wing staircase. Image courtesy of the National Gallery

“Thinking a lot about how people move around our galleries”

The overarching intention for the multi-million-pound design work will be to improve the experience of visitors. Dr Finaldi says the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will likely impact the final result of a lot of the work too, as the needs of visitors have changed.

“We’ll be thinking a lot about how people move around our galleries,” he says, referring to the gallery’s reopening after the UK’s first national lockdown in the summer of 2020.

“We gave people itineraries then in order to keep them moving in one direction – and while it had a social distancing benefit, we also found people appreciated being directed a little bit more, rather than being left to roam free.”

He says such interventions will be an interesting point of focus as the museum looks to NG200.

Details for applying

The first stage of the search is an open and international call for architect-led multi-disciplinary design teams to register their interest, and demonstrate relevant skills and experience.

A shortlist of up to five teams will then be asked to submit details of their approach to the design and delivery of the project and will be interviewed by a selection panel – no design work will be required at this stage. Each finalist team will receive a contribution to expenses worth £10,000 at the conclusion of the process.

Interested parties should apply before the first deadline on 18 March 2021. More details can be found here.

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  • mike dempsey February 22, 2021 at 9:51 am

    Let’s hope that Prince Charles Doesn’t stick his nose in again. In 1984 he successfully sabotaged the original National Gallery Sainsbury wing proposals back, leaving us with the dull 1991 built edifice, reminisces of one Charles’s faux Georgian buildings in Poundbury, Dorset.

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