Project in Detail
Medieval & Renaissance Galleries
London, United Kingdom
MUMA, London, United Kingdom
World Architecture Festival 2010 - Structural Design of the Year
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is “the world’s greatest museum of Art and Design”. Throughout its history the museum has used its own built fabric to showcase pioneering architectural design and construction craft. Our project seeks to continue this tradition.
The new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries are located on three levels, in the south east quarter of the V&A, within the 1909 Grade 1 Listed, Aston Webb Galleries, which provided significant challenges in achieving the requirements of a modern museum.
The Perimeter Galleries, in the south east quarter, were isolated from the rest of the building with access severely compromised by changes in level. There was a lack of physical and visual connections between adjacent galleries and no direct wheelchair access to most of this area of the museum. To address this, by removing two existing marble stairs, on two levels, we were able to occupy the interstitial spaces between the various buildings, to create a new circulation hub and new Daylit Gallery. In this pivotal location, the intervention resolves all access issues providing equality of access to six levels of the museum.
The architectural approach is distinctly modern with clear articulation between the old and new. The contrast and spatial tension between the surrounding architectural volumes that define the Daylit Gallery - the powerful curved form of the East Hall apse and the adjacent rectilinear blocks, provides the generator for the intervention. Translucent glass beams, ranging from 5m to 9.5m long, are arrayed across the space, reconciling the slightly rotated cubic forms of the surrounding buildings with the pure semi-circle of the apse to the East Hall, creating a delicate, undulating roof. The result is an informal yet dramatic four storey high gallery space which contrasts with the formal nature of the surrounding galleries.
In keeping with the spirit of a museum that celebrates design excellence, the modern intervention employs innovative construction technologies – ones that are clearly distinct from the historic fabric but also, through form and materials, in harmony with it. By these means we have created the first new-build public space at the museum in over 100 years.
Translucent white structural glass beams radiating out from the apse of the East Hall, sail over the top of the existing parapet. This separation maintains the clarity of the historic fabric. Around the perimeter of the Daylit Gallery, the glass beams effectively disappear into the surrounding masonry walls. The high and low points of the sloping glass beams each hold constant upper and lower datums simplifying the visual complexity of the roof. The result is a visually simple approach that addresses the various wall conditions and the continually changing angles (in plan and section). The pitch varies between 20° and 40° creating a twisted, curving, gently undulating form - described by the specialist glazing contractor, as ‘a ‘hypar surface’ – a term more commonly used for tent structures.
Conceived by the Architects in conjunction with structural engineers and detailed design by the specialist glazing contractor, this hypar surface is achieved by cold bending the double glazed units as they are fixed in position on site. Despite being forced into a twisted form, by up to 150mm in one corner, the edges of the glass planes remain flat and the warp occurs across the centre of the glass. Proving this flat perimeter geometry was critical to retaining a manufacturer’s warranty on the double glazed unit. This was achieved through 1:1 physical mock-ups, which were witnessed by the glass supplier.
The Structural Engineer writes:
“The glass roof presented particular engineering challenges that were overcome without compromising the architectural intent.
In principle the roof structure is straightforward, comprising 73 triple-laminated glass beams of varying depths of between 445mm and 555mm, spaced at approximately 750mm centres supporting insulated glass roof panels.
The principal challenge was forming the warped surface of the roof. It was the corner radial sections of the roof where the glass is no longer parallel and the panels are trapezoidal that presented a tough geometrical challenge. The cost of heat bending the double glazing was prohibitive as each panel has a different geometry. The option of cold bending the glass panels in-situ was considered. A study of the most severely warped panel suggested that the 3 x 0.75m long panel would need to be twisted such that one of the corners was displaced vertically by 150mm relative to the other three. At first glace the resulting curvature along the edge looked like it would exceed the industry standard for the sheer stress on the edge spacers in insulated panels. However following a simple experiment with a sheet of card it appeared that the edge would be straighter than anticipated. A full size mock-up of the panel was made which confirmed the edges of the panel were in fact straight. The warp occurred across the centre of the panel confirming that the panel could be bent to the degree required without exceeding the degree of curvature stipulated by the insulated glass panel supplier resulting in an affordable solution.
The geometric relationship between the roof plane and the glass beams varies from beam to beam as well as along each beam. Bespoke stainless steel connections were developed that accommodate the geometric variations and allowed the insulated panels to be simply clamped on site into a continuous stainless steel channel structurally bonded along the top of the beams.”
Sound Space Design
Artificial Lighting Consultant
Client / Developer
The Board of Trustees of the V&A
Historic Building Consultant
Julian Harrap Architects
Holloway White Allom
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Dewhurst MacFarlane & Partners
Vertical Transportation Consultant