Victoria & Albert Museum, Gallery 40
Thursday 13 Jun 2013
The fashion galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum have been extensively refurbished by 6a architects and will house the museum’s fashion collection and temporary exhibitions for the next decade.
Gallery 40, or the Octagon Court, is one of the largest and most architecturally distinctive interior spaces at the V&A. It was built in 1909 by architect Aston Webb and is based on an octagonal plan with four deep circular alcoves and a domed glass roof. In 1962 a steel mezzanine was added, the glass dome over painted and the grand gallery entrances in-filled. Subsequent piecemeal alterations gradually concealed the qualities of the original room and mezzanine.
Webb’s soaring dome and precise geometries were lost to an introverted and cluttered darkness. Through a careful process of demolition and repair, 6a architects has revealed the quality of Webb’s original architecture. Three circular rings are suspended from the iron structure of the dome and provide flexible lighting for exhibitions and light-sensitive fabrics. The hanging circles draw the visitor’s eye up to the vast roof and complete the orbital architecture. The mosaic floor has been painstakingly restored and the original entrances to the gallery reinstated. The mezzanine is wrapped with a new balustrade of slender white steel and its stiletto-like columns are exposed.
A cylindrical lift makes the mezzanine fully accessible, its white terrazzo walls resting on Webb’s original marble floors. The architectural elements now sit lightly within the Edwardian volume, creating a new bright and ethereal space where 1909, 1962, 2012 and beyond coexist.