This week sees the culmination of a collaboration project that gives the RIBA Drawings Collection a new home at London's Victorian and Albert Museum. An architecture gallery, designed by Gareth Hoskins Architects, opens to the public today (Thursday), as do study rooms, stores and offices designed by Wright & Wright Architects.
The main space in the gallery is for a permanent exhibition (permanent in V&A terms is about 20 years). Signalled from a landing by a Greek caryatid and a 4m-tall 1920s isometric drawing of St Paul's, the gallery takes a thematic, rather than historic, approach to architecture, addressing issues such as environmental impact and 'the art of architecture' in models, photographs and objects.
The ingress of natural light and the long display period preclude the use of original drawings in the open, but these are available in beautifully crafted grey Corian drawers.
Hoskins has echoed the rhythm of the original Aston Webb design of the room with a series of free-standing display 'pylons' marching down both sides of the gallery.
Lower-level displays in the centre are illuminated by a forest of hanging lamps, courtesy of lighting designer Speirs and Major Associates, possibly the only discordant element. Hoskins has also created a temporary exhibition space in a former storage room off the gallery, described in shape as a 'tapering railway carriage'. This has an elegantly designed light timber ceiling, a large door to entice visitors in, and is fitted out in a strong blue-green colour.
The other spaces are in the Henry Cole Wing, a good five minutes' walk away, and on a number of levels. This wing was originally built round a courtyard, which was filled in under an insensitive adaptation by the then Property Services Agency in the 1960s. This central area is being used for storage and also for the main reading room, with the two architecture reading rooms off it.
Wright & Wright has raised the ceiling by about 2m, created a mezzanine gallery and opened up arches above the doorways to bring in as much natural light as possible and to allow users to enjoy magnificent views of other parts of the museum. Beautifully crafted oak doorcases link the main room and the architecture rooms, and there is also customdesigned furniture in oak, with grey working surfaces. A double-sided clock by Langlands & Bell links two key spaces.
On one edge of the building, the architect has created offices on level four and a much-needed cataloguing suite below. The offices are an enfilade of rooms, decorated in strong colours from the RIBA Heritage paint collection and include a kitchen with the original kitchen table from the Heinz Gallery at Portland Place. Clever use of mirrors above the doors also helps enliven the spaces.
Expected to receive a stream of visitors, these offices, like the more public spaces, will display treasures from the collection in celebration of its magnificent new home.