London: Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts (UK)

SACKLER GALLERIES, ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS

Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0BD, UK

FOSTER + PARTNERS (1991)

This is a truly inspiring project!

When Norman Foster was invited to upgrade a series of galleries at the Royal Academy, his design also included an idea for improving circulation to those galleries on the upper level of Burlington House. Foster proposed the removal of a variety of additions within a lightwell and using the walls of the existing buildings as a backdrop for a new steel and glass stairwell and lift.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 01_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 02_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 03_Stephen Varady Photo ©

This reads as a simple idea, however the issues related to restoration / renovation work are numerous and intricate, and even more so at the Royal Academy which consists of a series of buildings and extensions by a variety architects. Foster collaborated with Julian Harrap Architects as heritage consultants to make sense of the facades around the lightwell, and to document and then meticulously restore or reinstate their materials.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 04_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 06_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Into this, Foster inserted a white steel frame containing a glass stair on one side and a hydraulic glass lift on the other. The stair and the lift are located within their own lightwells on either side of the main grand staircase at the centre of the building. Supported on two central columns, the stair winds past rendered walls with windows on one side, and meticulous brickwork on the other. Depending on the uses behind, some windows were reinstated, and others blocked up.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 07_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 09_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 10_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 11_Stephen Varady Photo ©

The stair balustrades are glazed, allowing clear views across the tight space, and the stair treads are of translucent glass, allowing even more light to filter through the space. In 1991, this was considered a radical solution. (When I was designing a glass floor in 1994, I especially visited this building to study the details. No one in Australia knew about glass floors and I eventually had to speak to Pilkingtons in London to get the technical information I required.) Today, glass floors are perhaps not as uncommon.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 12_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 18_Stephen Varady Photo ©

The structure of the stair sits in the space like a tree, supported on the central columns without touching the sides. Steel outriggers with glass infill panels ‘fill’ the gaps between the stair and walls, creating wonderful juxtapositions between old and new, without the stair having to align with the walls and floor levels on either side.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 14_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 20_Stephen Varady Photo ©

(It appears that in recent years, non-slip strips have been added to the glass treads. While these do interrupt the clean lines of the glass, they do not detract greatly from the overall design.)

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 19_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 25_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 26_Stephen Varady Photo ©

 

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 28_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 29_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 27_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 32_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 33_Stephen Varady Photo ©

At the top, a new frosted glass box caps the composition. Natural light floods into the space, which is both a reception area for the galleries and a small sculpture gallery, where the top cornice of one of the building’s façades becoming a plinth for the sculptures.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 34_Stephen Varady Photo ©

A glass floor adjacent to the stair allows more light to reach the spaces below.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 35_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 37_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 38_Stephen Varady Photo ©

This is a very special project – it is as much about the experience of moving through space (as all great architecture should), as it is about the elements that create it.

Even though it is buried away within the Royal Academy, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in London.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 43_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 44_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 45_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 46_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 47_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 48_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 49_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 50_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 51_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 52_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 53_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 54_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 55_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 56_Stephen Varady Photo ©

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Patners 57_Stephen Varady Photo ©

PUBLICATION

In 1992, a Blueprint Extra was published with text by Rowan Moore and photographs by Dennis Gilbert. It is an exceptional publication that includes plans, elevations, sections and details. If you hunt around you may find a copy available on the internet.

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_Blueprint Publication 1992 ©
Blueprint Extra 04 – 1992
Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_Blueprint Publication 1992_lower plan ©
Lower Plan from Blueprint Extra 04
Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_Blueprint Publication 1992_upper plan ©
Upper Plan from Blueprint Extra 04

DRAWINGS

Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_section 1 ©
Section 1 from Foster + Partners
Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_section 2 ©
Section 2 from Foster + Partners
Sacker Gallery, London by Foster + Partners_construction photo ©
Construction photo from Foster + Partners

IMAGES

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Place: Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts

Architect: Foster + Partners (as Foster Associates)

Photographer: Stephen Varady

Reviews: Sackler.org

Map: Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts Map

 

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2 thoughts on “London: Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts (UK)

  1. It was ground breaking in its day: curved lift doors, glass treads, Bavarian white glass…. This was the start of Foster’s minimalist phase. I loved that grey and white era.

    Regards,

    WILLIAM SMART SMART DESIGN STUDIO
    ARCHITECTURE FROM THE INSIDE OUT

    632 BOURKE STREET
    SURRY HILLS NSW 2010
    DIR 02 8332 4300
    TEL 02 8332 4333

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