|The Sackler Courtyard. Photo: Hufton + Crow|
The V and A’s new Exhibition Road Quarter opens to the public this Friday evening (June 30), marking a new era for the museum. Among the highlights is the Sackler Courtyard, a sweeping public space complete with cafe, that provides an additional way into the popular tourist attraction. The courtyard and stairs are paved with 11,000 hand-made porcelain tiles arranged in 15 different patterns - a nod to the museum's historic association with ceramics.
A dramatic staircase just inside the entrance leads down to the stunning 1,100sq m Sainsbury Gallery, 18m down but with windows to courtyard above that allow in daylight. It's column-free, so can be configured in any way to house blockbuster temporary exhibitions. The first of these opens on September 30: Opera - Passion, Power and Politics.
Passersby get their first view of the development through the Aston Webb Screen, erected more than 100 years ago to block off a service area that housed a boiler room and other utilities. (These were supposed to have been hidden underground but as money was tight, they ended up in what was initially to be a courtyard.)
The screen has now been opened up and transformed into an elegant colonnade, with doors that can be closed at night. The bomb damage to the original stonework sustained during the Blitz is still visible, and is also recorded on the perforated metal of the doors.
The museum's director, Tristram Hunt, says the development has created a living room for London which blends the street and the museum. The opening is being celebrated with a week-long free public festival, Reveal, (to July 7) with art, performance, fashion and family activities.
On Saturday, Exhibition Rd will be closed to traffic, allowing easy access between the V and A and the Natural History and Science museums opposite – as was originally intended. When Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Aston Webb building in 1899 she said: “I trust that the Museum will remain for ages a monument of discerning liberality and a source of refinement and progress”. The museum says the project is the next stage of fulfilment of her hopes.
For details of the Reveal festival: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/reveal