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Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates

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Project Description


Built on the last open space on Trafalgar Square, the Sainsbury Wing houses one of the world’s greatest and most visited collections of early Italian and Northern Renaissance paintings. Stylistically, the Wing is designed to connect to and reflect William Wilkins’ 1838 National Gallery building while maintaining its own identity as a work of contemporary architecture. It’s constructed of the same Portland limestone and observes the cornice height of the original. Elements from the Wilkins facade are replicated on the new building, but used in innovative and unexpected ways alongside contrasting elements -- for example, large square-cut openings and small metal columns -- to create new rhythms and harmonies.
The Sainsbury Wing contains a new and more generous entry that provides grade access to the entire National Gallery. This ground-level entrance is not only accessible to all people but, in contrast to the original structure, appears accessible -- an important consideration as museums reach out to ever more diverse audiences. Inside, visitors have convenient passage to flexible temporary exhibition galleries, conference rooms, a restaurant, a 350-seat lecture theater, an enlarged museum shop, and an interactive information center. Beyond a large glass wall overlooking the Wilkins building and Trafalgar Square, a grand processional stair leads from the lobby to the third-floor permanent galleries where the Early Renaissance collection is exhibited. Galleries are arranged in a gentle hierarchy of small, medium, and large rooms, each lit by a delicately balanced and automatically controlled combination of natural and artificial light sources. Galleries are grouped and linked, providing a variety of pathways to accommodate the Museum’s four million annual visitors.
VSBA placed first in an international invited competition for design of the Sainsbury Wing after a previous design was abandoned at the urging of the Prince of Wales. As prime architect, VSBA provided architectural design, programming, interior design, and construction documents in metric.
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