Designer basement extension on the cards for the V&A with new donation pledge

The museum extends down, not up with new plan that is largely below street level and much less expensive than the failed Spiral

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An anonymous donor has pledged £15m to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) for an extension that will provide much needed temporary exhibition space and a new entrance. This represents one of the largest donations for a museum building in the UK. Although unidentified, the donor is London-based.

The extension, which will cost £35m, will be on the site originally earmarked for Daniel Libeskind’s “Spiral” extension. The space is currently occupied by offices and facilities hidden behind the imposing Aston Webb stone screen of 1909.

The new extension, designed by the architect Amanda Levete, could hardly be more different from the Libeskind extension, proposed 15 years ago and dropped in 2004. Rather than dominating the museum’s façade, the competition-winning scheme announced at the end of March will be essentially below street level, with an open courtyard and basement galleries.

The V&A’s latest plan is also half the price of the Spiral, although it is much smaller and less ambitious. The idea is to provide a new public entrance through the Aston Webb screen onto a large, downward sloping courtyard area. The street entrance will be on Exhibition Road, which is due to become semi-pedestrianised later this year.

Visitors would enter the main museum building on the far side of the courtyard, or descend to the underground, temporary exhibition space.

Initially the museum hoped that if it needed to create further space, a building could be erected above the new courtyard. But it has proved too complicated and expensive to construct sufficiently strong foundations to support a large building. If the V&A ever wants to build upwards, it will have to demolish the Levete scheme. The museum’s extension and entrance is due to be completed in 2016.

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper under the headline "Designer basement"

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