After an international competition to design a new entrance in 2011 and five years of subsequent building works, this summer saw the grand opening of the new V&A Exhibition Road Quarter by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. Designed by Amanda Levete Architects (AL_A), the new Sackler Courtyard, Blavatnik Hall and Sainsbury Gallery create a new relationship between the heart of the V&A and Exhibition Road and are the Museum’s biggest building project in over 100 years.
The original Aston Webb Screen, built in 1909 as a clever architectural intervention to hide the Museum’s Victorian boilers from the street, has returned to Exhibition Road after being painstakingly removed and put into storage at the end of 2013. The screen of columns, punctuated with perforated metal gates, provide an impressive introduction to The Sackler Courtyard, the world’s first public ceramic courtyard made from 11,000 specially designed tiles. This new courtyard allows visitors to see the previously hidden facades of Aston Webb’s original buildings and detailed sgraffito decoration which is publicly accessible for the first time since their completion in 1873.
Once visitors have passed through The Sackler Courtyard, they are welcomed into the Museum through The Blavatnik Hall, a major new entrance that is expected to welcome around half of the V&A’s 3.4 million annual visitors. Connecting the newly displayed Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art and The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Sculpture Galleries, The Blavatnik Hall gives views through to The John Madejski Garden and leads to a new shop. It also connects to the historic Ceramic Staircase as well as The Sackler Centre for arts education, which reopened featuring the new John Lyon’s Charity Community Gallery.
Lying 18 metres below ground is the newly built Sainsbury Gallery, a 1,100 square metre column-free space that is one of the largest temporary exhibition spaces in the UK. The first exhibition to inhabit the Sainsbury Gallery will be Opera: Passion, Power and Politics opening on September 30, a landmark collaboration between the V&A and the Royal Opera House exploring a vivid story of opera from its origins in late-Renaissance Italy to the present day.