National Gallery - Architecture - Sainsbury Wing and Later Additions

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Sainsbury Wing and Later Additions

The most important addition to the building in recent years has been the Sainsbury Wing, designed by the postmodernist architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to house the collection of Renaissance paintings, and built in 1991. The building occupies the "Hampton's site" to the west of the main building, where a department store of the same name had stood until its destruction in the Blitz. The Gallery had long sought expansion into this space and in 1982 a competition was held to find a suitable architect; the shortlist included a radical high-tech proposal by Richard Rogers, among others. The design that won the most votes was by the firm Ahrends, Burton and Koralek, who then modified their proposal to include a tower, similar to that of the Rogers scheme. The proposal was dropped after the Prince of Wales compared the design to a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend", The term "monstrous carbuncle", for a modern building that clashes with its surroundings, has since become commonplace.

One of the conditions of the 1982 competition was that the new wing had to include commercial offices as well as public gallery space. However, in 1985 it became possible to devote the extension entirely to the Gallery's uses, due to a donation of almost £50 million from Lord Sainsbury and his brothers Simon and Sir Tim Sainsbury. A closed competition was held, and the schemes produced were noticeably more restrained than in the earlier competition.

In contrast with the rich ornamentation of the main building, the galleries in the Sainsbury Wing are pared-down and intimate, to suit the smaller scale of many of the paintings. The main inspirations for these rooms are Sir John Soane's toplit galleries for the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the church interiors of Filippo Brunelleschi (the stone dressing is in pietra serena, the grey stone local to Florence). The northernmost galleries align with Barry's central axis, so that there is a single vista down the whole length of the Gallery. This axis is exaggerated by the use of false perspective, as the columns flanking each opening gradually diminish in size until the visitor reaches the focal point of (as of 2009), an altarpiece by Cima of The Incredulity of St Thomas. Venturi's postmodernist approach to architecture is in full evidence at the Sainsbury Wing, with its stylistic quotations from buildings as disparate as the clubhouses on Pall Mall, the Scala Regia in the Vatican, Victorian warehouses and Ancient Egyptian temples.

Following the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square, the Gallery is currently engaged in a masterplan to convert the vacated office space on the ground floor into public space. The plan will also fill in disused courtyards and make use of land acquired from the adjoining National Portrait Gallery in St Martin's Place, which it gave to the National Gallery in exchange for land for its 2000 extension. The first phase, the East Wing Project designed by Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones, opened to the public in 2004. This provided a new ground level entrance from Trafalgar Square, named in honour of Sir Paul Getty. The main entrance was also refurbished, and reopened in September 2005. Possible future projects include a "West Wing Project" roughly symmetrical with the East Wing Project, which would provide a future ground level entrance, and the public opening of some small rooms at the far eastern end of the building acquired as part of the swap with the National Portrait Gallery. This might include a new public staircase in the bow on the eastern façade. No timetable has been announced for these additional projects.

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