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Sitting in the heart of London's Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery is one of the world's most prestigious art galleries, housing a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th Century to 1900.

Purcell have been working at The National Gallery for over 30 years. We have undertaken a Conservation Management Plan of the historic building's estate, and led a wide range of conservation and design projects including the creation and refurbishment of galleries, fit-out of visitor and commercial facilities — including hospitality and retail spaces — and the redesign of support spaces and staff workplaces.

The Gallery's evolution
The National Gallery

In 2018, our experience and in-depth knowledge of the gallery's operations, needs and ambitions were consolidated into a masterplan in which we accessed the potential development of the estate. Our initial spatial brief sort to access the scope for change, and was informed by the gallery's ethos, ambitions and continuous evolution as a dynamic and vibrant visitor destination.

Examining the Top 10 Needs

Our masterplan focused on The National Gallery's ‘Top 10 Needs’ of continuing to develop and expand their collection while providing a world-class visitor experience. Improving financial resilience and exploiting adjacencies with the public realm — notably Trafalgar and Leicester Squares — were key considerations in addition to optimising the use of the existing buildings alongside new interventions.

The scheme also examined expanding the gallery's research facilities, the creation of temporary and permanent gallery space, introducing increasing digital initiatives, and improving back-of-house space.

Capacity for change

Our study to inform the masterplan initially examined the existing buildings that make up The National Gallery's estate. Our team considered the heritage significance of the Grade I-Listed buildings and their capacity for change, while highlighting the gallery's current spatial and visitor experience issues.

This was undertaken via a combination of first-hand research and precedents — both national and international — of similar institutions and architectural styles. Visitor numbers and flows were also assessed; both inside the buildings to identify ‘hot-spots’ and areas of congestion, and within the wider city, accessing transport issues, for example, arrival points.

Future opportunities

Based on our research, our masterplan assembled a range of ‘Development Models’ with varying degrees of commercial and gallery use, and refurbishment versus new-build designs. This currently informs The National Gallery of the various approaches available to them, as each 'model' realises the gallery's objectives identified in their ‘Top 10 Needs’.

Gallery B

More recent projects at the gallery include Gallery B, which provided an additional 200m2 exhibition space transforming previously back of house spaces within the gallery’s listed building. This was the first major new gallery space to open at The National Gallery since the Sainsbury Wing in 1991.

Julia and Hans Rausing Room
The recently conserved Julia and Hans Rausing Room, also known as Gallery 32

In July 2020, the Julia and Hans Rausing Room – the largest and one of the most visited rooms of The National Gallery – reopened after a £3m 21 month refurbishment project led by Purcell.

Displaying 17th Century Italian paintings by artists including Caravaggio, Artemisia and Guercino, an enriched rehang has been installed within the gallery room. The dark red wall cloth, ornate painted frieze, and lunettes have all been reinstated according to the original colour scheme, with new air conditioning and lighting systems also installed.

The Accommodation Hub

Purcell are currently leading the delivery of a major project on site for completion in 2021. The Accommodation Hub will revolutionise the gallery’s workplaces by bringing functions together into new state-of-the-art facilities in the heart of the building.

The interior refurbishment proposals include removing partitions, subdivisions and lowered ceilings throughout the central ground floor area and installing an open plan office space with high ceilings. Two covered atria will be created in the Victorian Sunley and Belvedere lightwells, and new floors will be inserted in the Sunley lightwell to provide office space.

The Accommodation Hub will provide new opportunities for collaboration and developing new working practices, benefiting staff and reinforcing the status of The National Gallery as a world-class institution.

David Hills, Partner

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