Selldorf Architects revises plans for National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing

Proposed interior of Sainsbury Wing

New York studio Selldorf Architects has made changes to its revamp of the postmodern Sainsbury Wing at London’s National Gallery, which had been criticised as “damagingly destructive”.

The plans to remodel Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown‘s postmodern Sainsbury Wing were first revealed earlier this year and met with heavy criticism from heritage bodies and architects.

The National Gallery submitted revised plans on 17 October, detailing changes to the proposal that it said were done after hearing from heritage bodies and stakeholders.

View of interior of Sainsbury Wing
A number of pillars will be moved under the revised scheme

“The changes to the scheme are a natural evolution of the process of listening and consultation,” a spokesperson for the National Gallery said. “We’ve listened carefully to the views of heritage bodies and other stakeholders and have welcomed their views.”

“We have found ways to retain more of the existing fabric whilst meeting our ultimate ambition of providing a world-class welcome for our millions of visitors,” they added.

“People’s needs and expectations have changed dramatically over the last 30 years and we need to accommodate these, as well as the 100 per cent increase in visitor numbers.”

Egyptian-style columns to be moved under new plans 

The newly submitted plans detail a number of changes that Selldorf Architects has made to its design for the Sainsbury Wing.

The internal screen walls of the rotunda on the main floor, which would have been removed under previous plans, will now be retained.

In the entrance lobby, two pill-shaped columns will be moved one structural bay to the west, while its six Egyptian-style columns will be moved to become part of a new bookshop. A curved wall will also be moved.

The remaining structural columns on the ground floor, as well as structural columns on the first floor and the exposed first-floor edge, will be clad in Pietra Serena stone. Previous renderings appeared to show the columns clad in pale wood.

Sainsbury Wing interior with stone-clad pillars
Structural columns will be clad in stone

Changes have also been made to the glass balustrade on the first floor, which will now have a misted glass finish and no handrail or metal framing. It will be set back from the slab edge.

Finally, the studio has extended the use of a rusticated limestone finish on part of the stone wall between the lobby and the stair, which will now reach the full two-storey height of the wall.

National Gallery “needs to do a rethink”

Architecture critic Hugh Pearman, who had deemed the original plans for the remodel “damagingly destructive”, wrote on Twitter: “This superficial revision doesn’t change my view that the NG is literally starting from the wrong place and needs to do a rethink on where its main entrance should be.”

In an article for The Arts Newspaper, Pearman called on the gallery to reconsider its plans to keep the Sainsbury Wing as its main entrance, which it was not originally designed to be, claiming that it “unbalances the whole composition of the National Gallery”.

“But if the gallery continues to insist that its main entrance should be at the far western end of the main complex, then only the most minimal and respectful alterations to Venturi and Scott Brown’s unique building should be allowed,” Pearman said.

Previous proposals criticised as “an act of vandalism”

Critics of the original scheme include architect and University of Westminster professor Sean Griffiths, who told Dezeen: “In the context of the unique character of this building, the deployment of ubiquitous corporate, airport concourse aesthetics in the proposed revamp looks a lot like an act of vandalism to me.”

In an opinion piece for Dezeen, architecture editor and writer Catherine Slessor said: “History now seems to be repeating itself at the Sainsbury Wing,” arguing that the proposed changes to the building are the latest in a long line of controversies surrounding it.

The Sainsbury Wing renovation is part of the National Gallery’s NG200 project to mark its bicentenary in 2024. It will see a seminar room, archival store and staff offices added, as well as an espresso bar on the building’s ground floor and a cafe on its first floor.

The images are courtesy of the National Gallery.

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