Former RIBA presidents say revamp will turn the Sainsbury Wing into “an airport lounge”

Eight former presidents of the Royal Institute of British Architects have objected to Selldorf Architects‘ revamp of the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing, calling it “insensitive”.

Paul Hyett, Sunand Prasad, Ruth Reed, Angela Brady, Stephen Hodder, Jane Duncan, Ben Derbyshire and Alan Jones filed their objections in the public comment section of the Westminster planning portal on 22 October.

National Gallery extension
The original design for the remodel, which the former presidents commented on, showed white walls and wood-clad pillars

The former Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) presidents stated they are in accord with the organisations Historic England, Historic Buildings and Places and the Twentieth Century Society, which have also objected to the plans for the postmodern Sainsbury Wing extension designed by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

The remodel of the extension will be done by US studio Selldorf Architects and has been heavily criticised.

Changes turn “a finely conceived space into an airport lounge”

The comment by the past RIBA presidents states: “Selldorf Architects (NY) were, we believe, selected by competition to adapt the wing, but their proposed changes are to our minds insensitive and inappropriately changes a finely conceived space into an airport lounge.”

“Their plans involve making drastic and irreversible changes,” it added. “They have applied to gut the ground and first (mezzanine) floor to provide an espresso bar and cafeteria which will irreversibly alter the character of the building.”

“It feels as if the architect is trying to jam a modern building into the guts of the Sainsbury Wing and wholly change its character – the VSBA ambience will be lost, and the ground and mezzanine floors detached psychologically from the main gallery floor,” the comment said.

Revised scheme “perhaps even more ill-judged” 

Instead of going ahead with the “ill-judged” project, the former RIBA presidents suggest the National Gallery revisits a masterplan by architect Ed Jones to upgrade the gallery’s main, central entrance.

The National Gallery is currently using the Sainsbury Wing as its main entrance, despite the fact it was not designed to be.

A revised scheme for the extension filed by Selldorf Architects on 17 October “appear perhaps even more ill-judged”, the former presidents said, adding that they will add further comments on this if they consider it necessary.

View of interior of Sainsbury Wing
Stone-clad pillars feature in the revised proposals for the scheme, which the former presidents described as “even more ill-judged”

Selldorf Architects founder Annabelle Selldorf told Dezeen that the revisions came after a period of public consultation.

“The overarching goals remain the same – to create a more inclusive welcome for the now six million visitors a year to the Gallery and the design allows for that right from the outset with the new ‘Square within a Square’, an enlarged security vestibule, more transparency and openness to the space for people to linger and orientate themselves before moving on to view art,” she said.

The comment from the former RIBA presidents suggests that rather than remodel the Sainsbury Wing, the institution should restore it to its original design.

“A beautifully designed sequence of spaces and the imaginative detailing, such as in the entrance floor with its huge columns and coffered ceiling, were inspired; it would be prudent to restore this space as originally constructed, with the colour scheme proposed by Venturi Scott Brown,” it stated.

The renovation and remodel of the Sainsbury Wing is part of the NG200 project, the National Gallery’s project to mark its bicentenary in 2024.

The images are courtesy of the National Gallery.

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