The new National Portrait Gallery in London opens tomorrow Thursday 22nd June 2023 following the most significant redevelopment in its history, led by Jamie Fobert Architects alongside heritage architects Purcell and a highly skilled design team.
The transformational project, Inspiring People, has seen a complete refurbishment and reconsideration of the Grade I-listed building, including the creation of new public spaces, a more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt, a new learning centre and the restoration of many historic features.
The project has opened original windows, doors and roof lights to bring in natural light, and has revealed hidden areas including a Victorian terrazzo floor. The scheme will enrich the visitor experience by improving facilities and bringing into use areas that were previously unused and creating new public spaces fit for 21st century audiences. The project has increased public space by around a fifth, including converting office space into top-lit galleries in the newly named Weston Wing, which will house the Gallery’s contemporary collection.
The new National Portrait Gallery represents the most significant transformation in our history since our building opened in 1896. It has been wonderful to work so closely and in such harmony with Jamie Fobert and his team, including Purcell, on this, and I particularly want to congratulate Jamie on the thoughtful way he has moderated a conversation between each of the building’s different epochs in order to create something holistic, coherent and new. Alongside the architecture and as part of what was always intended as a complete transformation, the curators of the Gallery have undertaken a complete rehang of the collection, from top to bottom, Tudors to now, and through many significant new acquisitions and commissions over the last few years, have transformed both the range and quality of the artists and sitters we have on our walls.Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery,
Central to the transformation of the Gallery is the new accessible entrance and public forecourt, which repurposes the previously under-used area to the north of the Gallery. To create the new entrance, three of the original windows on the north façade have been altered to form three 4-metre-high doorways into the Gallery. The new bronze doors, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects, feature 45 specially commissioned bronze portraits of women by artist Tracey Emin.
The new doorways lead into a generous new entrance hall, which is more than double the size of the Gallery’s original foyer. The removal of some original walls and the design of large beams to carry the load of the building above was overseen by the structural engineers Price and Myers. Ensuring visitors encounter art as soon as they enter the building, the new hall includes a presentation of historic and contemporary busts on plinths, designed by Nissen Richards Studio.
A major element of the project has been the creation of The Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre, which will provide a better learning experience for children, young people, community groups and adult learners. The Centre has more than doubled the Gallery’s provision for learners, increasing from one studio to three – The Law Photography Studio, The Art Studio and The Clore Studio – and incorporating a gallery space, state-of-the-art digital and photography equipment and improved facilities such as a lunchroom and a new courtyard garden, named The Mildred Garden.
The project has also included the complete restoration of the gallery spaces: blocked windows have been opened, roof lights covered in the Second World War have been reinstated and infilled arches have been reopened. The wooden floors that had faded in sunlight have been brought back to the deep lustre of the original teak. The ceilings of all the galleries have been restored and unified with a single colour. Lighting, which used to hang at the cornice level at the centre of each gallery, has been lifted by engineers Max Fordham up into the lanterns of Floor 3 galleries, so it virtually disappears from view.
The architecture project was primarily driven by the desire for the Gallery to turn to face the city, to open up to the public in a way the original building did not, to bring back to life the gallery spaces, and to focus attention on the handsome Victorian architecture which had been obscured. It has been an extremely collaborative project on every level. We have worked closely with heritage architects, Purcell, on all aspects of the building fabric, along with a design team of the highest quality. In all that we have done, we have been guided by the National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, whose vision has been clear and consistent throughout. No longer awkward or overlooked, the National Portrait Gallery can now stand confidently facing the city: the great historic building Londoners never knew they had.Jamie Fobert
The transformation also includes a complete redisplay of the world’s greatest collection of portraits, spanning six centuries, in the renewed galleries and revitalised spaces. Over 1,100 portraits will be on display when the Gallery reopens on 22nd June 2023 – an increase of over a third from pre-closure.
Collaborators on the Inspiring People project include Jamie Fobert Architects; heritage architects, Purcell; structural engineers, Price & Myers; services engineers, Max Fordham; project manager, Gardiner & Theobald; main contractor, Gilbert-Ash; and interpretation designers, Nissen Richards Studio.
Inspiring People has been made possible by major grants from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, as well as major donations from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Ross Foundation, Mildred and Simon Palley, Julia and Hans Rausing, the Clore Duffield Foundation, the David and Claudia Harding Foundation, Bjorn and Inger Saven, the Law Family Charitable Foundation, David and Molly Lowell Borthwick, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation and Art Fund.
The Gallery’s opening is supported by Reopening Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills, longstanding partner of the National Portrait Gallery.