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Design Detail: Daylit Gallery, V & A Museum, MUMA and Julian Harrap Architects

Glass roof, hub staircase and restoration of existing building fabric

MUMA and Julian Harrap Architects on how they detailed their new Daylit Gallery at the V&A

Design Strategy

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As part of the V&A’s FuturePlan, MUMA, working with restoration specialist Julian Harrap Architects, has relocated the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries to the Aston Webb-designed south-east quarter of the museum. This project has comprehensively transformed this area of the V&A, rationalising its circulation. The new Daylit Gallery is a key component in this process.

The museum’s perimeter galleries, in the south-east quarter, were isolated from the rest of the building, with access compromised by changes in level. They lacked physical and visual connections to adjacent galleries and there was no direct wheelchair access to most of this area. We addressed these problems by removing an existing Aston Webb marble staircase, which enabled us to occupy the interstitial spaces between the various buildings, creating the new circulation Hub and Daylit Gallery. Our intervention resolves the access problems and provides equal access to six levels of the museum.

Our architectural approach is distinctly modern, with clear articulation between old and new. The contrast and spatial tension between the surrounding architectural volumes that define the Daylit Gallery, together with the powerful curved form of the East Hall apse and the adjacent rectilinear blocks, provide the generator for the modern intervention. Translucent glass beams, up to 9.5m-long, are arrayed across the space, reconciling the slightly rotated cubic forms of the surrounding buildings with the pure semicircle of the apse to the East Hall, and creating a delicate, undulating roof. The result is an informal, four-storey-high gallery space that contrasts with the formal nature of the surrounding galleries. The modern intervention employs innovative construction technologies that are distinct from the historic fabric, but also, through form and materials, in harmony with it. It is the first new-build public space created at the museum in over 100 years.

Stuart McKnight, partner, MUMA

Glass Roof

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The translucent structural glass beams that radiate from the apse of the East Hall sail over the top of the existing parapet. This separation maintains the clarity of the V&A’s historic fabric. Around the perimeter of the new Daylit Gallery, the glass beams effectively disappear into the surrounding walls.

We set the high and low points of the sloping glass beams at constant datums, simplifying the visual complexity of the roof. This relatively simple approach 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. This is described by Octatube, the specialist roofing contractor, as a ‘hypar’ surface - a term more commonly used for tent structures.

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Engineered by Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, with detailed engineering by Octatube, 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. We had to prove this flat perimeter geometry in order to ensure a manufacturer’s warranty on the double-glazed unit, and we achieved this through 1:1 physical mock-ups, which the glass manufacturer witnessed.

Stuart McKnight, partner, MUMA

Hub Staircase

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Standing clear of existing walls, the new Hub staircase is articulated as an independent element. Its components are coordinated to work with the existing building; the height of the risers relates to the corresponding dimension in
the removed staircase. This was critical to the resolution of the galleries’ new raised floor. The staircase has been engineered with very thin landings (160mm) and slender columns. Combined with cantilevered glass balustrades, the effect is to limit its visual impact and increase its transparency.

The staircase is an in-situ concrete structure. All surfaces are exposed, with a high-quality finish and the top surface simply trowelled. The colour of the concrete is similar to a very pale limestone, harmonising with the existing gault brickwork.

Balustrade subcontractor TP Aspinall made plywood templates of the edges of the concrete stairs and landings, and of the cast-in Halfen channels, and used these to fabricate made-to-measure stainless-steel and glass components. During installation, Aspinalls aligned the balustrades and stainless-steel plates, making adjustments in two stages. The bolted connection of the stainless steel backing plates to the Halfen channels provided lateral
adjustment. Then Aspinalls bonded the plates to the glass, hooked these assemblies on to the carriers and locked them in place with countersunk screws, using shims to make minor adjustments.

Stuart McKnight, partner, MUMA

The existing building fabric

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The existing Aston Webb staircase, built from marble on a clinker concrete and iron structure, terminated a screen and bridge running transversely across the East Hall from north to south. Detailed site analysis revealed the
stairs were of lesser quality than other staircases in the museum.

Removal of the infill ‘structure’ containing the stairs exposed two disconnected and architecturally incomplete doorway openings. The key to their re-presentation was to mend the scars where the abutting walls had been removed and to unify the openings into a single architectural composition. This was achieved by treating the doorways as a ‘triumphal arch’, with the upper arched opening superimposed over the Greek Corinthian lower opening.

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The composition was given added emphasis by framing the ‘triumphal arch’ within a five-ring gault-brick arch, redolent of Victorian engineering brickwork. The new loadbearing five-ring arch spans 6m, and is built into the existing south wall of the East Hall to half its depth of 450mm. This recess delineates the brick wall from the decorative plasterwork of the two doorway openings. The transition from plaster to external gault brickwork is completed by rendering the rear face of the newly formed recess.

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The plinth and pilasters to the lower opening, previously subsumed within the staircase enclosure, were completed and the entablature above remodelled to accommodate the new Daylit Gallery floor and to mirror the termination of the screen at the north end of the East Hall. The upper doorway opening was completed by extruding the existing arch into a series of similar semi-circular plaster arches.

Robert Sandford, associate, Julian Harrap Architects

Click here to view the project during construction in a short film commissioned by the V & A

 

 

 

 

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