'A radical transformation': National Portrait Gallery reopens to public

21 June 2023

The National Portrait Gallery has today reopened to the public after undergoing the biggest redevelopment in its 127-year history. 

We were honoured to work on this sensitive renovation which has seen new additions including a public forecourt and retail and catering facilities. A new entrance to the Gallery features beautiful doors designed by Tracey Emin depicting 45 hand-drawn female portraits cast in bronze. 

By creating a new accessible entrance into the historic façade, the building has been reorientated to face the city, connecting the Gallery with the vibrant area of London on its doorstep. Office spaces have been converted into beautiful, top-lit galleries on the first floor, extending the public gallery space by around 20%.

Alongside the architectural project, the National Portrait Gallery has undertaken a comprehensive re-display and reinterpretation of the world's largest collection of portraits which places people at its heart, to tell a richer story of history and culture in the United Kingdom.

Working closely with Jamie Fobert Architects and Purcell, we were the Environmental Engineering, Lighting and Acoustics consultants for the project, tasked with integrating state-of-the-art engineering systems as well as safely re-introducing daylight into the galleries through windows which had been blocked up for nearly 100 years. 

The lighting design gives more presence to the entrances, introduces daylight into the galleries, and addresses the problem of ‘gallery fatigue’ to create a flexible, characterful, energy-efficient and healthy installation across the site. 

For significant heritage projects of this scale, our engineering solutions need to be sympathetic, flexible, and most of all inventive, in order to meet modern expectations whilst protecting the heritage of the building. We strove to find the right balance between providing better conditions and greater functionality while respecting the historic fabric of the institution.

“Much of the previously fusty, dusty feeling has been brightened up by, quite literally, letting in the light. After extensive digital modelling by environmental wizards Max Fordham, blocked windows have been ripped open, bringing in bursts of daylight that help to prevent gallery fatigue (made possible by sophisticated UV film on the glass), while cumbersome lighting grids have been slimmed down. The engineers also applied their skill with ducts and pipes to a new suite of galleries – spaces that had been converted into offices, but can now be returned to their original use thanks to an air handling system, deftly inserted within the thickness of the walls. Purcell has replicated mouldings, doors and windows, meanwhile, making the difference between new and old imperceptible.” – Oliver Wainwright, Architecture and Design Critic, the Guardian 

You can read more about our work on the National Portrait Gallery here and read the full Guardian review of the National Portrait Gallery transformation here. 

The new entrance to the Gallery features doors designed by Tracey Emin depicting 45 hand-drawn female portraits cast in bronze. © Olivier Hess 

The lighting design gives more presence to the entrances, introduces daylight into the galleries, and addresses the problem of ‘gallery fatigue’ to create a flexible, characterful, energy-efficient and healthy installation across the site. ©  Jim Stephenson

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