Here’s the first look at Selldorf Architects’ bicentenary revamp of the National Gallery

200th Touch-Up

Here’s the first look at Selldorf Architects’ bicentenary revamp of the National Gallery

Rendering depicting public realm improvements outside of the Sainsbury WIng at Trafalgar Square. (Courtesy Selldorf Architects)

Coinciding with the launch of a formal public consultation period, London’s National Gallery has shared initial design proposals for a series of planned capital improvements at its storied Trafalgar Square campus. While proposed work at the 198-year-old museum will entail various components including a suite of public realm upgrades, a core element will be a comprehensive renovation of the institution’s Sainsbury Wing, a Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA)-designed addition completed in 1991 that currently serves as the main entrance to the larger museum complex.

Collectively referred to as the NG200 Project, the improvements are being carried out in celebration of the fabled British art museum’s forthcoming bicentenary and “will benefit all those who visit the Gallery and access its services,” per the museum. The initial phase of planned work is slated to be completed by 2024, in time for the 200th birthday festivities.

Helming the revitalization efforts across the campus is Selldorf Architects, which was selected by the National Gallery for the roughly $35-to-$42 million (£25-30 million) NG200 Project in July of last year. Led by Annabelle Selldorf, the New York-based firm was chosen from a shortlist of six design teams and was the lone North American practice amid an all-star roster of London-headquartered firms: David Chipperfield ArchitectsCaruso St John ArchitectsWitherford Watson Mann ArchitectsDavid Kohn Architects, and Asif Kahn. Joining Selldorf Architects on the larger design team is ArupAEA ConsultingPurcellVogt Landscape Architects, Pentagram, Kaizen, L’Observatoire, and Kendrick Hobbs. Representing the National Gallery is project director Sarah Younger.

“Covid-19 had a catastrophic impact on the arts and culture sector,” said Dr. Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, in a statement. “As we move beyond the pandemic, it’s vital that we build on our strengths and, respond to challenges and opportunities. Underpinning these proposals is a concrete desire to build the foundations of the Gallery’s future, consolidating our role as the nation’s art gallery.”

rendering of a revitalized museum lobby
Interior of the reimagined Sainsbury Wing. (Courtesy Selldorf Architects)

In launching public consultation, the National Gallery referred to the proposed upgrades in a press release as “sensitive interventions” that will be “pivotal in reshaping the National Gallery for its third century and the next generation of visitors.” In addition to prioritizing visitor “comfort and well-being” and encouraging more diverse audiences, the improvements also emphasize reducing the museum’s carbon footprint through efficiency upgrades.

The remodel of the Sainsbury Wing will play a chief role in the NG200 Project. Outside, the wing’s high-traffic entrance will be made “more visible and easier to navigate.” Inside the building, “opening up the space and aligning it more clearly with other significant parts of the building” has been identified as a priority. Underused spaces within the wing’s ground-level will be reimagined and given new use, the lobby foyer will be made more spacious, and dark glazing will potentially be replaced with clear glass as a means of allowing more natural light to flood public areas while opening up views looking out into Trafalgar Square. Changes to the galleries themselves within the Sainsbury Wing have not been proposed.

A new basement-level connection between the Sainsbury Wing and the neighboring 19th-century Wilkins Building has also been proposed to improve public access between the two buildings, which are currently only connected by a (rather inconvenient) gallery-level route that involves backtracking. Like with the Sainsbury Wing, the ground floor of the iconic Wilkins Building will be reimagined, and underused spaces will be reconfigured to create a new Research Centre and dedicated “Member’s House.” The Research Center will have its own direct public entrance thanks to the creation of an expansive new public square fronting the Sainsbury Wing that incorporates an underutilized area at the southwest corner of the Wilkins Building.

A “clearer and more direct” north-to-south pedestrian route will also be established along Jubilee Walk, which links Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square.

A split view of the bifurcated national gallery and circulation paths
Illustration depicting new circulation route between the Sainsbury Wing and Wilkins Building. (Courtesy Selldorf Architects)

Said Annabelle Selldorf in a statement on the initial NG200 proposals:

“It is extremely exciting to be able to share our initial design concepts with the public and stakeholders today. The entire design team has worked very hard alongside the National Gallery to develop a brief that celebrates the Gallery’s historic setting, whilst also providing a better, more welcoming and inclusive experience for visitors.

The development of a new and truly accessible Research Centre, open to anyone interested in studying and learning more about art, as well as opening up the spaces of the ground floor and bringing more light into the Sainsbury Wing, are primary examples of this.

The Gallery is able to make a positive impact on the immediate external spaces surrounding it. The initial proposals developed with Vogt Landscape consider how to enliven this portion of public realm, creating a new square and connections that aim to bring joy and delight to those who experience them.

We will work collaboratively with the public and key stakeholders on these early concept designs through the consultation process, guided by the National Gallery’s vision to create a Gallery of the future that is inspiring, sustainable, and inclusive.”

As part of the public consultation period, a series of in-person events detailing the proposed improvements will be held at the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing during three dates in early March. A Zoom webinar detailing what’s ahead is also scheduled for March 10.

More information on the proposals can be found here.