International competition announced ahead of bicentenary

National Gallery Sainsbury Wing exterior

Source: National Gallery

Venturi Scott Brown’s Sainsbury Wing extension

The National Gallery is looking for an architect to remodel both its grade I-listed buildings ahead of its 200th anniversary.

The institution has launched an international competition for a design-led team to improve the visitor experience and rethink the entrance sequence of the Sainsbury Wing.

The project has an anticipated construction budget of between £25m and £30m, while the design team contract is worth £3.5m.

The brief gives entrants scope to look at how Venturi Scott Brown’s 10,000sq m building links to the main Wilkins Building along Trafalgar Square’s northern terrace. A new research centre is also part of the five-year programme of works.

It is thought to be the first time another architect will have been allowed to make alterations to the Sainsbury Wing which holds a legendary place in modern architectural history.

National Gallery from Trafalgar Square

Source: National Gallery

A high-tech design by ABK which won the original competition to extend the National Gallery was famously likened to a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend” by the Prince of Wales in his notorious 1984 speech to the RIBA. His remark led to the scrapping of the ABK proposals. A new competition was launched which US practice Venturi Scott Brown won with its classically inflected piece of post-modernism. It was given grade I protection in 2018.

Today the gallery announced it was looking for an architect-led multi-disciplinary team to work with it on a “suite of capital projects” to mark its bicentenary. Only the first phase is scheduled to complete in 2024.

Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi said they wanted help developing an architectural vision and conceptual approach to a phased five-year programme of works that was “hugely important” to its future.

National Gallery Sainsbury Wing staircase

Source: National Gallery

The stairacse in Venturi Scott Brown’s Sainsbury Wing

The two-stage selection process, run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, begins with an open, international call for teams to register their interest and demonstrate their relevant skills and experience.

A shortlist of up to five teams will then be asked to submit details of their approach to the design and delivery of the project and will be interviewed by a selection panel.

The gallery said no design work was required and that some expenses would be paid to the shortlisted teams. An appointment is expected to be made in July 2021.

“We are extremely fortunate to have a superb building and a modern classic in the Sainsbury Wing; one that has more than met its original brief, notably in the practically perfect picture galleries,” said Dr Finaldi.

“The dual challenge of a huge increase in visitor numbers and the changing expectations and needs of those visitors over the last 30 years means we do need to look again at the spaces we have, and in particular the ground floor entrances and amenities.”

Malcolm Reading, chairman of Malcolm Reading Consultants, said: “The process chosen by the National Gallery is not a conventional design competition seeking design concepts but instead creates the opportunity for much more interaction something the gallery values and we know architects appreciate. We welcome both national and international teams. They will need to be exceptional and the international teams will require a UK partner for stage two.”

The deadline for first stage responses is 2pm on March 18. Details of how to enter are available at:

>> From the archive: Venturi and Scott Brown’s Sainsbury Wing listed – with 16 other po-mo buildings

>> Ben Flatman: Whatever happened to The Crown episode where Charles triggers the architects?

The brief

The overall brief for the project includes sensitive interventions to the grade-I listed Sainsbury Wing, including remodelling the front gates and ground-floor entrance sequence; interior works to the lobby and first-floor spaces and upgrading visitor amenities; in particular orientation and information, retail and security. As the main entrance to the National Gallery, the Sainsbury Wing requires inspiring spaces that meet the expectations of 21st-century visitors, befitting a world-class institution housing an outstanding collection of art.

National Gallery Central Hall main building

Source: National Gallery

The creation of a new research centre, likely to be housed in the west wing of the Wilkins Building adjacent to the Sainsbury Wing, will form part of a phase of work. It will support the gallery’s vision of becoming a world leader in research into historic painting and communicate its work as a global thought leader by creating a powerful resource for studies into art history, digital humanities, conservation, and heritage science. It will be a resource for everyone interested in studying art, from students to international academics.

The design brief also allows scope for the reimagining of the relationship between the gallery and the public realm immediately, from the loggia of the Sainsbury Wing, across Jubilee Walk and along the northern edge of Trafalgar Square to the front of the Wilkins Building. Although limited, the refocusing and strengthening of these spaces would provide greater visibility and presence for the gallery on Trafalgar Square, while creating a more attractive and enjoyable setting for visitors and the public.

National Gallery Barry Rooms old building

Source: National Gallery

Underpinning the brief is the desire to create healthy, sustainable, and accessible spaces and an environment that is open and inclusive where visitors can relax and reflect as they plan their visit to one of the world’s finest art collections. Following a year of unprecedented challenges due to covid-19, the National Gallery wants to build on its strength, inventiveness and relevance to play a vital role in the nation’s recovery story.