Selldorf Architects wins Sainsbury Wing redesign at London’s National Gallery

Trafalgar Transformation

Selldorf Architects wins Sainsbury Wing redesign at London’s National Gallery

Exterior of the Sainsbury Wing at London’s National Gallery as seen from Trafalgar Square (Richard George/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5)

The titular New York practice of German architect Annabelle Selldorf has been selected by the National Gallery in London to lead a series of capital improvement projects across the museum’s storied Trafalgar Square campus. Chief among these public-facing improvements is an extensive renovation of the Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA)-designed Sainsbury Wing, an addition completed in 1991 and that currently serves as the main entrance to the larger museum complex. An initial phase of work is expected to be completed in 2024 as part of the museum’s bicentenary NG200 initiative, which was first announced back in February.

In a statement, Selldorf referred NG200 project as “a significant opportunity for an iconic cultural institution to reflect on its ambitions for the future and drive forwards an innovative, bespoke brief that befits its many visitors.”

While design particulars of the (subtle) overhaul are forthcoming, the National Gallery has outlined the overall scope of the $34.7-to-$41.7 million (£25-30 million) revamp. In addition to the Grade I-listed Sainsbury Wing makeover, the project will include the creation of a new research center as well as various public realm upgrades. As noted by the museum in a press announcement, “these sensitive interventions will be pivotal in reshaping the National Gallery for its third century and the next generation of visitors.”

Joining Selldorf Architects on the larger winning design team are Arup, AEA Consulting, Purcell, and Vogt Landscape Architects. As mentioned in April when the National Gallery first revealed the six shortlisted design teams in the running for the commission, Selldorf Architects was the lone North American firm amid an all-star roster of London-headquartered architectural practices: David Chipperfield Architects, Caruso St John Architects, Witherford Watson Mann Architects, David Kohn Architects, and Asif Kahn.

Annabelle Selldorf (Harry Mitchell/Courtesy National Gallery)

While the other shortlisted firms are no doubt a formidable bunch and locally based, it’s apparent that Selldorf Architects benefitted from its vast experience in executing careful updates of architecturally significant museum buildings. That includes the ongoing expansion and renovation of the Frick Collection in Manhattan and the expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which also features a 1990s-era addition designed by VSBA. Both of these projects, it should be mentioned, haven’t been without a fair amount of controversy. The National Gallery announcement also comes shortly after the opening of the Luma Arles cultural campus in Provence, France, where the firm converted four historic industrial buildings into exhibition and performance spaces, as well as the unveiling of the design for the new Shaker Museum in Chatham, New York.

“We are delighted to appoint Selldorf Architects as the design-team partner for NG200,” said Dr. Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, in a statement. “Throughout the selection process, Selldorf Architects demonstrated a real understanding of our ambitions as well as sensitivity to the heritage of our existing buildings.”

“Working alongside Selldorf Architects, we will develop and deliver a detailed brief that will be the framework through which we consolidate our role as the nation’s gallery,” added Finaldi, noting the “catastrophic impact” that the coronavirus crisis has had on visitor attendance at arts and cultural institutions across the globe. “[…] there is hope on the horizon and arts and culture will be crucial in the healing of our country. We plan to build on our strengths, respond to challenges and opportunities, and forge a pathway to the National Gallery of the future—for the nation and for the world.”

Joining Finaldi on the Malcolm Reading Consultants-organized selection panel was author and architecture critic Edwin Heathcote, structural engineer Jane Wernick, and Ben Bolgar, senior design director for the Prince’s Foundation, along with three museum trustees including chair Lord Hall of Birkenhead CBE.

“It is an honour to be appointed to work alongside the National Gallery on its NG200 project,” said Selldorf. “Our team will work sensitively and thoughtfully with the National Gallery, guided by its vision for a Gallery of the future that is inspiring, sustainable, and truly inclusive.”