New workspaces at the heart of The National Gallery

7 July 2021
© The National Gallery

The National Gallery has a spectacular new office, The Accommodation Hub, created at the very heart of the Grade I listed building, and now shortlisted for the 2022 AJ Retrofit Awards.

Purcell have created a unified office space for the entire Gallery staff within previously redundant, confined and underused spaces nestled between and beneath the exhibition halls of the nation’s art collection.

This refurbishment has included the conversion of two remaining lightwells and adjacent spaces at basement and ground floor in the 1870’s E.M Barry extension.

It has created eight floors - over 40,000 square feet - of workspaces designed to enhance collaboration, communication and community between over 250 gallery staff, uniting departments previously scattered across the sprawling main buildings on Trafalgar Square and Orange Street.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the client will now inhabit the new spaces and realise the original concept; of establishing a collaborative and inter-connected workplace that enhances the well-being and productivity of the staff community.

— Robin Findell, Senior Architect

Infrastructure designed to enhance collaborative working and connection between staff - warm desks, breakout spaces, conference and meeting rooms - is reinforced by views and visual links created by open balconies across lightwells and reopened, repaired low-level windows.

© Wilmot Dixon Interiors

The commercially viable and sustainable workspace was first conceived of years before flexible working entered the mainstream agenda during COVID-19, beginning on site in 2019 and completing in Spring 2021.

It is designed to champion communication and collaboration across teams, as well as freeing up space across the site for future development, in line with the client’s longer-term masterplan.

© The National Gallery

One of the main challenges was the introduction of modern services to facilitate this new agile and COVID-secure working environment in a Grade I listed building.

— Robin Findell, Senior Architect

In a fitting tribute to the original “back of house” area, the team exposed the new services in the historic spaces. These works depended upon high level collaboration between us and the services sub-contractor throughout the site phase.

Extensive natural light and open space characterize both lightwells; each infilled and capped by glass rooflights.

The first creates an informal meeting space, cafeteria and atrium, reintroducing the previously forgotten but dramatic view of the portland stone clad Belvedere Tower to the interior and creating a grand sense of place and identity for the Gallery staff.

© Purcell

The second has five, open balconied floors of warm desk spaces, collaboration areas and intelligent bookable rooms, centred around one, unifying lightwell. The further top two floors include a shared space for Gallery staff, with expansive views across Trafalgar Square and towards the London Eye.

These two unique and distinct lightwells are connected by reconfigured and refurbished ground and basement floors which deliver further meeting and office spaces in previously under-utilised storage areas.

© Purcell

The project has also lowered workspace density to around 17m2/person, developing new agile working practices with the Gallery staff from the very beginning and freeing up spaces for shared facilities.

In a post-COVID world, this preconceived design is ever more attractive.

While the home can be readily used as a workplace for concentration and individual activity, the new office provides staff with the much-needed social interaction for effective working and sense of community that, as useful as it has been, video conferencing cannot provide.

— Robin Findell, Senior Architect

© The National Gallery

Construction was maintained throughout the pandemic thanks to swift adaptation of on-site working practices, minimising disruption. The completion of the project comes after a string of other successful projects at the National Gallery with Purcell collaborating with the team there for many years.

A major refurbishment of Room 32 was completed in February 2020 just as the pandemic arose, with a Masterplan and major refurbishment of Gallery B also completed in recent years.