Kensington Palace work could lead to exhibition commissions

A £12m project is underway to redevelop Kensington Palace in west London and open it up to the public, through a new entrance, visitor hub, permanent exhibitions and landscaping.

Architect John Simpson and Partners will lead the project, while Dutch museum specialist Opera Amsterdam will work on exhibition design with the in-house Historic Royal Palaces restoration team.

The appointments were made via an open tender last year. Opera Amsterdam has been working with in-house teams on exhibition concepts ’for the first visitor route of Queen Victoria’, according to a Historic Royal Palaces spokeswoman.

Opera Amsterdam director Lies Willers says she is working on a ’narrative environment’ that will lead visitors through up to nine rooms using sound design, graphics and installations alongside exhibits.

Willers says visitors will be introduced to the ’atmospheric and immersive’ exhibition through audio design, which will feature ’the voices of people who thought she shouldn’t be Queen’. Each room will be episodic and designed to reflect the ’light and dark’ events in Queen Victoria’s life.

A ceramic family tree is planned, which Willers says will have an accompanying narrative triggering lights showing the names of royal children and when they were born.

Prince Albert’s death will be shown in a separate installation as ’a frozen moment in time’, using photographs commissioned by Queen Victoria on the day he died, according to Willers, who says, ’We may involve an artist.’

Simpson says the project, Welcome to Kensington – A Palace for Everyone, ’will bring more stories in and help visitors relate to the palace, reuniting it with the park’.

Railings, trees and royal occupancy have made the palace inaccessible in the past, Simpson says.

Simpson is leading work on the hub, which will form part of a new free-to-access area he says is to comprise temporary exhibition space and a café. He says that inside, ’graphics and real objects will be in strategic places for people to relate to’. The footprint of the hub will be maximised by installing a glazed roof in one of the courtyards, he adds, though Historic Royal Palaces says plans are yet to be finalised.

Around a third of the new space will be used for education, according to Simpson, who is working with Historic Royal Palaces to accommodate what it calls ’a wide range of learners’ and local community groups.

Following the reopening of Kensington Palace in 2012, further visitor route exhibitions will be developed. These include The Curious World of George II’s Royal Court; Queen Mary and Queen Anna; and Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. A decision is yet to be made on whether these exhibition spaces will be designed in-house or put out to tender, according to the spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces.

Kensington Palace revamp

  • The overhauled Kensington Gardens will open in 2012, in time for the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics
  • A new visitor entrance will be created to draw visitors to the palace from Broad Walk
  • Stories of exhibitions and collections will be hinted at in a new, freeto- access hub

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