Third time lucky as Royal Academy link project finally opens
Attempts by Hopkins and Colin St John Wilson to unify the Royal Academy campus failed because they were either over-inflated or under-ambitious, David Chipperfield has said.
The architect was speaking at a press preview of his successful attempt to do what defeated his predecessors.
His £50m scheme opens to the public on May 19, linking for the first time the existing Royal Academy with Burlington Gardens, the former Museum of Mankind building directly behind it, using a bridge over the area occupied by the RA Schools. A new auditorium and galleries for architecture and the permanent collection are also part of the project.
The competition won by Chipperfield was launched in 2008 by the then newly appointed chief executive Charles Saumarez Smith with a view to resolving the problem in time for the RA’s 250th anniversary, a feat they have pulled off.
Chipperfield was beaten in the first competition in 1998 by Michael and Patty Hopkins, but their £80m project failed to get Lottery funding and was eventually dropped. Wilson’s masterplan followed but was also dropped after the architect’s death in 2007.
Chipperfield said: “Hopkins won with an adventurous proposal to roof over the space between the two buildings. They are tantalisingly close to each other but there is a de-militarised zone that separates them and part of that de-militarised zone is the RA Schools, that sacred and secluded and honourable part of this institution that no one sees. They have this privileged location and rightly so.
“The scheme struggled because of its over-inflated vision to link the two buildings with a covered space. It was a step too far in terms of heritage and architecture as well as budget.”
He added: “Sandy Wilson did a rather modest masterplan and took completely the opposite strategy, with quite discreet connections going round the edges. That failed because of its lack of vision.
“This is a very robust institution and people do say what they think. There are some moments when silence is more powerful than anything else. There was just a lack of enthusiasm for the project. No one stopped it but it ran out of steam.”
He said it had failed to answer two fundamental questions: how to connect the two buildings and what the role of the second building should be.