30 June 2017

The V&A's new Sackler Courtyard and Sainsbury Gallery – I'm not impressed at all

I was invited to the press preview of these spaces and had been quite keen to go. On Wednesday morning, the day of the event, I put on the TV and saw it on BBC news. Oh ugh! How disappointing. I considered not bothering to leave the house after all. But then I thought, c'mon Jane, it's probably much better in the flesh, go take a look. So off I went.
As I approached the gates my heart sank and, as they say a lot these days, I am not going to lie to you – I really don't like it. Any of it. By which I mean any of it being here in this location. The elements are OK but just not for here. It reminds me of the Daniel Libeskind university building in Holloway Road which looks like some kind of malfunction happened and it was dropped from the sky into the wrong location.

Exhibition Road – the new entrance and the cafe just inside. 
Let's start with the gates on Exhibition Road. The Aston Webb Screen has been designed so that people can see through the gates when they are closed and have better access to the museum when they are open. All well and good, but the new gates are horrible.
As I approached them, I really thought they were temporary. The shade of grey is just like those corrugated panels that go up around building sites. A dark grey would have looked much better here. Apparently the barely noticaeble patterns within the mesh is meant to echo the shrapnel damage that was on the walls they replace. Call me weird, but I prefered the walls – did we really need so many gates?

Architectural features; curves angles and reflections. Yawn.
Inside the gates it's all geometric shapes and mad curves over a courtyard paved in ceramic tiles. The cafe building (shown bottom left, above) looks to me like it could be part of Crossrail's scheme; the sharp angle on the roof resembles those vile geometric greenhouses we now see at the entrances of Tott Ct Rd station.
But it's the colour of the courtyard floor that concerns me most. It hit me hard as I arrived as it is completely the wrong tone. The tiles are a basic dead blue-white with added colours in stripes which, being mostly blue, further add to the coldness of the white and jar with the natural earthy tones of the older buildings. It was explained that these coloured lines tied up with some elements in the gallery below but try as I might I could not find the visual connection (see pics further down). This brings to mind Enzo Piano's expanation for the bright colours he used on his large constructions at St Giles, near Centrepoint; that they were to echo the colours of the guitars sold in Denmark Street. Really? green, yellow and orange guitars?!
But, back to the V&A courtyard floor – it was also explained that because tiles can be slippery (no shit Sherlock) it took a lot of time and effort (and money?!) designing them such that the fired coloured stripes sat within recesses. I really don't know why they bothered. I wonder if the whole thing is just so the V&A can say they have the first porcelain courtyard...?
Some sandstone or yorkstone paving would have worked a treat here, even with all the other new elements, thereby mixing old and new.

Porcelain tiles – filth and a accident waiting to happen
The first two pics above show how the porcelain tiles are already filthy. Also worth mentioning is a triangular sloped section between the main flat area and the access ramp shown in the second two pics. In these days of Health and Safety madness I am quite surprised at this – see how the tiles have been placed with the design flowing downwards to further aid anyone who puts a step wrong. I reckon a guard rail of some kind will be added along the top after a few sprained ankles occur.


To the left of the courtyard near the cafe entrance, come carved lettering and leafy motifs on the old building has been re-gilded. All well and good but look how the new floor, which is metal here, obliterates WING and V&A.
Moving inside the building... The Sainsbury Gallery is a vast unsupported gallery space beneath the courtyard and is accessed via a staircase of glossy black and red (architects' orange). I was completely non-plussed on seeing this space – it's just a big dark empty room waiting for an event to arrive. It felt a bit like a underground car park with not columns. I suggest only architects and engineers who will be impressed by it. The general public will only appreciate the exhibitions that happen here.

Staircases, 1980s colours, wooden floors (nice touches) and the huge gallery
In conclusion, it's a mish mash of ideas brought together in the wrong location.
And it cost £48M – yes, that's forty eight million pounds.
I will stop now.

Thought: Have I ever written about how I don't rate Tate Modern and it's damn Turbine Hall commissions either...?

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