V&A proposes underground galleries

Exhibition space will occupy area originally designed for abandoned Spiral project



The Art Newspaper can reveal that the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is discussing a proposal to build galleries in the area originally allocated for the controversial Spiral, abandoned in 2004. The Daniel Libeskind-designed project would have cost £70m, but was dropped after the Heritage Lottery Fund refused a grant.

The new scheme, more prosaically named the Exhibition Road Building, will be entirely underground. In this sense, it could hardly be more of a contrast to the flamboyant Spiral, which was intended as a grand architectural statement about the V&A’s commitment to the contemporary.

Above the galleries, at ground level, there would be a piazza, providing an attractive outdoor area before visitors enter the museum. This would be located behind the Aston Webb Screen in Exhibition Road, built in 1909 as a columned stone entrance and to hide the boiler house.

The key element in the underground galleries scheme is that it would remain possible to build upwards on the piazza in the future, when the museum requires more space. It therefore represents a pragmatic solution to current needs.

New temporary exhibition space is a high priority, since the present galleries are too small and logistically unwieldy. They ­currently occupy the North and South Courts, which have 1860s decoration that is obscured and could be opened up, possibly for the display of grand 19th-century design.

Underground galleries would be quite suitable for the V&A’s temporary exhibitions, since many of the works are made of light-sensitive materials and need artificial lighting.

Structural engineering firm Arup, which previously advised on the Spiral, is involved in developing the concept of the Exhibition Road Building. A detailed feasibility study is likely to be completed later this year.

Costs of the underground stage of the Exhibition Road Building are now being calculated, but could be around £25m. It is expected that the project will be discussed by trustees in the coming months, and no decision has yet been made.

Although fundraising is difficult in the present climate, the museum wants to press ahead once the situation improves.