V&A Photography Centre Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell
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V&A Photography Centre: the largest photography space in the UK

Four more galleries have been added to the three opened in 2018, making it one of the most important photography exhibition centers in Europe, with a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions

Purcell | Gibson Thornley Architects

V&A Photography Centre Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell
By Editorial Staff -

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Photography Centre in London has reopened to the public after the completion of phase two in May 2023. Following on from the opening of the first three galleries in 2018, the center is set to become one of the most popular exhibition facilities in Europe and internationally. The four new galleries will finally do justice to the V&A’s vast and world-leading photography collection, acquired over the 170 years since the museum’s first director, Henry Cole, an amateur photographer and ambassador for the art of photography, started it. This makes the Photography Centre the UK’s largest permanent space dedicated to photography.

The first phase of the project, involving creating spaces for the wide range of photographic works dating from the early 19th century to the present day, was overseen by David Kohn, while the completion of the center, which brings the number of galleries to seven, was the job of Purcell and Gibson Thornley Architects. Two of the new galleries are devoted to contemporary photography and themed temporary exhibitions. The third focuses on the relationship between photography and books, and houses the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Library. The final gallery traces the history of photography and the camera, highlighting their technological evolutions, complete with a walk-in camera obscura.

Located in South Kensington, the center includes works by the likes of Liz Johnson Artur, Sammy Baloji, Vera Lutter, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Tarrah Krajnak, and Vasantha Yogananthan, as well as a monumental photographic sculpture by Noémie Goudal, a series of shots by Indian photographer Gauri Gill, and a digital work by British media artist Jake Elwes. The selection of works reflects the center’s commitment to exploring current issues, such as identity, race, sexuality, and climate change.

V&A Photography Centre - Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell © Thomas Adank, courtesy of Gibson Thornley Architects

 

A state-of-the-art center with environmentally controlled galleries

The Photography Centre is a state-of-the-art and innovative space. It occupies 6135 sq.ft. (570 m²), part of which is environmentally controlled, with the temperature and humidity of the galleries constantly monitored – extremely important for the exhibits.

The Purcell team took care of stage one of the project, which involved the upgrading of historic areas previously used for storage and teaching, and the creation of additional usable roof space. The spatial and stylistic reinterpretation was the work of Gibson Thornley Architects. The studio worked closely with the V&A’s curatorial team as well as a group of young people, aged between 16 and 24, with the aim of making these spaces more accessible and attractive to younger generations. The Photography Centre is part of the V&A’s FuturePlan, an ambitious development program that had the architects work with an extremely varied cross-section of public to mold the contemporary spaces of the gallery in different ways to highlight the beauty of the original building.

“Photography lies at the heart of the V&A. The museum has collected photography since 1852 and continues to acquire the best of contemporary practice. As photography plays an ever-increasing role in all our lives, the expanded Photography Centre will be more relevant than ever. We look forward to welcoming visitors to explore the medium’s diverse histories and enjoy our world-leading collection”.

Marta Weiss, senior curator of photography at the V&A and lead curator of phase two of the Photography Centre

V&A Photography Centre - Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell © Thomas Adank, courtesy of Gibson Thornley Architects

 

Reading rooms and immersive experiences

The new home of the RPS Library in one of the center’s new galleries provides visitors a space to stop and contemplate the importance of photography books. The room retains its original floor, ingeniously protected from the massive weight of the books with new custom cantilevered elements so that the books line the walls. A new mezzanine walkway, with its balustrades made of interwoven brass rods, gives access to the entire collection.

Walnut bur lining makes the space both understated and elegant, recalling the style of the V&A’s National Art Library. The space also has a study area with comfortable seating alongside staff workspaces. The various sections interweave with each other so as to mix public and private areas, and create a rich and diverse experience for both visitors and staff.

V&A Photography Centre - Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell © Thomas Adank, courtesy of Gibson Thornley Architects

 

Custom glass display cases and soft lighting

The designers opted for new parquet floors for the other areas of the center and chose soft, subdued lighting that spreads through the sequence of archways that connect the galleries. In the space dedicated to the evolution of the camera, the exhibits that trace its path – from the camera of William Henry Fox Talbot, who invented negatives, to the iPhone – are kept inside custom-designed glass display cases. At the heart of the gallery is a camera obscura, designed in collaboration with British visual artist Richard Learoyd, which invites visitors to learn about and experience the fundamentals of the photographic process.

Credits

Location: London, United Kingdom
Completion: 2023
Client: Victoria and Albert Museum
Architects: Gibson Thornley Architects and Purcell

Consultants
Structures: Harley Haddow
Quantity Surveyor: Currie & Brown
Lighting: Michael Grubb Studio
Project Manager: Avison Young
Construction Design and Management: Purcell
Approved Building Inspector: RBKC

Main Contractor: Quinn London

Photography by Jim Stephenson and Thomas Adank, courtesy of Gibson Thornley Architects

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