The proposed main entrance and forecourt will allow disabled and non-disabled access through the same space for the first time

National Portrait Gallery announces redevelopment plans

Alex Stevens, 22.01.2019
Visitor experience is the focus of £35.5m project to complete in 2023
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has announced plans for a redevelopment which will include a new entrance, new public galleries in the building’s east wing, and a new learning space.

The £35.5m project will also involve a complete redisplay and refurbishment of the building. The NPG’s director Nick Cullinan said the project aimed to transform what can be “quite a fragmented experience”, adding that plans would “put the experience of visitors at the heart of everything we do”.

Cullinan said the plans would allow the gallery to showcase more of its collection, particularly 20th and 21st century works – with contemporary photography, for example, being used to populate the ground floor.

The project will create around 20% more public space, but its main aim is to improve the visitor experience, making the gallery “not bigger but better,” said Cullinan.

The development’s most significant architectural intervention will be the creation of a new entrance and forecourt on the gallery’s north side.

Three windows in the facade will be turned into doorways, relieving pressure on the existing main entrance and allowing disabled and non-disabled access through the same space for the first time. The existing main entrance will also be adapted to include step-free access.

The original building’s east wing will be reopened to the public as the Weston Wing. The freehold for this was transferred to the neighbouring National Gallery when the NPG opened its Ondaatje Wing in 2000, but was reacquired by NPG for an undisclosed sum in early 2018.

Much of this wing is currently used as office space by the NPG, but it will be converted to include roof-lit galleries on the first floor and a refurbished flexible gallery and social space on the ground floor.

NPG_learning centre area proposal_Jamie Fobert Architects - webThe new learning centre (left) will increase the gallery’s learning spaces from one to three, with double-height rooms in what was originally the gallery’s kitchen, and a new adjoining outside space.

A planning application has recently been submitted for the proposals, which were designed by Jamie Fobert Architects with architectural conservation specialists Purcell.

Jamie Fobert said he was “particularly happy to be able to reconsider the public area to the north of the gallery and transform it into a new public space for London”. 

Elizabeth Smith, a partner at Purcell, said the design was based on a “thorough understanding of the gallery’s spatial order and its place in the city”.

The gallery has secured £27.4m of its £35.5m fundraising target, including support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £5m from the Garfield Weston Foundation. It has launched a public fundraising campaign allowing supporters to sponsor new mosaics which will form part of the design, or – for £50,000 each – to adopt one of the 18 stone roundels on the outside of the building.

Work is scheduled to start in summer 2020 and is expected to take around two-and-a-half years to complete. It is the gallery’s biggest development since it first opened in 1896.


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