national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space

National Portrait Gallery undergoes a complete transformation

 

Originally built in 1896, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has undergone a complete transformation to be unveiled on its grand reopening on June 22, 2023. Led by Jamie Fobert Architects, alongside heritage architects Purcell, the project includes the complete refurbishment of the building, which is considered to be the first portrait gallery in the world. The renewal involves several architectural interventions, such as a new public forecourt, an inviting entry hall, and a dynamic learning center. Hidden areas have been opened up, and a new accessible entrance has been created, reorienting the building towards the city and connecting it with the vibrant area of London.

 

Alongside the architectural project, the National Portrait Gallery has undertaken a comprehensive re-display and reinterpretation of the world’s largest collection of portraits, in an effort to place people at the center and to tell a richer story of UK history and culture. In addition, the three new entrance doors of the Gallery are covered by 45 portraits that ‘represent every woman’, hand drawn by Tracey Emin, and cast in bronze.

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the new Forecourt at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess (head image: the Creativity, Conflict and the Crown display at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Gareth Gardner for Nissen Richards Studio)

 

 

Jamie fobert and purcell preserve NPG’s Victorian architecture

 

The National Portrait Gallery (find more here) is located in a Grade I-Listed building designed in 1986 by ecclesiastical architect Ewan Christian. The building features highly decorative elements such as large round-headed arches, Corinthian pilasters, delicate columns, elaborate cornices, and roundels, which contribute to its visual appeal. The project’s objectives were clear from the beginning: to enhance the identity, profile, and physical presence of the Gallery, making it accessible and welcoming to a diverse audience. Jamie Fobert Architects (find more here), alongside heritage architects Purcell (find more here), aimed to preserve and enhance the architectural qualities of the Victorian building, while reviving previously closed and underappreciated areas, particularly the East Wing. Additionally, they sought to create a modern Learning Centre that would transform the user experience and undertake a comprehensive re-display of the Collection, spanning from the Tudors to the present day. Sustainability and generating income to secure the Gallery’s future were also prioritized.

 

Over the past five years, Jamie Fobert Architects has led the design team through all the phases of the project, bringing their expertise in the design of galleries and public buildings and working with complex historic sites. In their role as collaborating Heritage Architect, Purcell, led by Liz Smith, has been integral to the design process, working alongside Jamie Fobert Architects through all stages from the design competition to project delivery. The collaborative effort forms an interaction between past, present and future, identifying opportunities for change that transform and enrich the visitor experience with a coherent holistic harmony that lets Ewan Christian’s architectural voice soar through into the new light-filled foyer and galleries.

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the new Forecourt at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess

 

 

‘The 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, 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,’ shares Jamie Fobert, Director of Jamie Fobert Architects

 

‘Working with a significant heritage asset like the National Portrait Gallery requires a high degree of creativity and inspiration to stay truthful to the original design intent whilst also allowing the building to evolve and remain relevant for today. Purcell’s role allowed us to identify opportunities for change, interfacing with Jamie Fobert Architects’s bold changes to the internal arrangements, which help articulate the function of the rooms through the materiality of the original building. Our intention from the outset was to put ourselves in the mindset of Ewan Christian working collaboratively with the spirit and ethos of the original architecture to upgrade the visitor experience,’ adds Liz Smith, Chairperson and Regional Partner of Purcell. 

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the Blavatnik Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson

 

 

‘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,’ says Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery. 

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the Blavatnik Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson

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the Contemporary Collection in the Mary Weston Gallery in the Weston Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © David Parry

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the Contemporary Collection in the Mary Weston Gallery in the Weston Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © David Parry

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the Contemporary Collection in the Mary Weston Gallery in the Weston Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © David Parry

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
a vista through the Romantics display through to Queen Vicotira by Sir George Hayter (1863) at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the Tudor Gallery, featuring Lady argaret Beaufort by Meynnart Wewyck (c.1510), loaned by St John’s College, Cambridge at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Gareth Gardner for Nissen Richards Studio

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
a view through the Art, Science and Society display at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Gareth Gardner for Nissen Richards Studio

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the Portrait Portrait Portrait!!! display, featuring Portrait of Mai by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1776) at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Dave Parry

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space

the National Lottery Heritage Fund Gallery at National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the National Lottery Heritage Fund Gallery at National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the new doors at the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery , London, designed by Tracey Emin | image © Olivier Hess

national portrait gallery in london welcomes visitors to its fully refurbished space
the new doors at the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery , London, designed by Tracey Emin | image © Olivier Hess

 

 

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the Weston Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson
the Weston Wing at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Jim Stephenson
new staircase for the Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre by Jamie Fobert Architects | image © Jim Stephenson
new staircase for the Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre by Jamie Fobert Architects | image © Jim Stephenson
new staircase for the Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre by Jamie Fobert Architects | image © Jim Stephenson
new staircase for the Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre by Jamie Fobert Architects | image © Jim Stephenson
the new main entrance hall at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess
the new main entrance hall at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess
the new main entrance hall at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess
the new main entrance hall at the National Portrait Gallery, London | image © Olivier Hess
before & after sections | image courtesy of Jamie Fobert Architects
before & after sections | image courtesy of Jamie Fobert Architects
image courtesy of Jamie Fobert Architects
image courtesy of Jamie Fobert Architects

project info: 

 

name: National Portrait Gallery
architects: Jamie Fobert Architects in collaboration with Purcell
location: London, UK

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