Reconfiguring The Sainsbury Wing

John Hill
16. February 2021
The Sainsbury Wing in 2006. (Photo: Richard George/Wikimedia Commons)

As announced today on its website, the National Gallery's NG200 plans will "include the completion of an initial phase of works to its Trafalgar Square buildings in order to improve the 'welcome' it provides to the millions of visitors it receives each year" — on a normal year, at least. The National Gallery, like other London institutions, is currently closed due to COVID-19. The wing was designed to handle 3 million visitors annually, but in the years since its 1991 opening that number doubled to 6 million, per The Art Newspaper.

What exactly does NG200 hold for The Sainsbury Wing, an important award-winning work of postmodern architecture that has landmark protection? According to the announcement: "The brief for the project includes sensitive interventions to the Grade I listed Sainsbury Wing to reconfigure the ground floor entrance and upgrade the visitor amenities, creating new spaces that will provide a welcome experience befitting a world-class institution and that meets the expectations of 21st-century visitors." 

Since 2018 the entrance to the wing has been the main entrance for the entire National Gallery, as it was able to be modified to handle security and other considerations that could not be met by the original 1830s building — the "much loved and elegant friend" as famously described by Prince Charles in a 1984 speech that led to Venturi and Scott Brown eventually designing the wing.

In its search for a design team to carry out the project (the NG200 Project competition is being carried out by Malcolm Reading Consultants), the National Gallery says: "The successful team will also be asked to reimagine the public realm immediately outside the Sainsbury Wing and along the northern edge of Trafalgar Square to improve the presence of the building in its context and create a more attractive and enjoyable setting for visitors and the public."

Per the competition website, the "selection process seeks an architect-led multi-disciplinary design team to deliver the £25 – 30 million (construction value) project. The project will be phased over five years, with an initial phase timed to deliver by May 2024." Interested and qualified architects have until March 18, 2021, to submit first stage responses.

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