The Courtauld Institute of Art

The Courtauld Institute of Art is one of the world’s leading centres for the study of the history and conservation of art and architecture, and its gallery houses one of Britain’s best-loved collections.

The exterior of the Courtauld Institute of Art

Key information


Witherford Watson Mann


The Courtauld Institute of Art



Year of Completion




The project is the most significant redevelopment of the Courtauld Institute of Art since its relocation to Somerset House in 1989. The building was originally constructed on the site of a Tudor palace and its development had been largely ad-hoc to accommodate its various uses over the years, resulting in an unconventional layout with over 100 different floor levels. 

We worked alongside Witherford Watson Mann Architects to undertake significant repair and conservation work to the Grade I-listed building. The overhaul of the Courtauld radically improved the facilities for collections storage and conservation, created a new gallery for the prints and drawings collection, and provides a new and improved temporary exhibition space.

The current home of the Courtauld was built before central water and sanitation services were common in buildings, but now houses galleries, workshops and facilities required to meet current environmental control standards. We were tasked with realising this provision in the existing building, and delivering architectural ambitions as sensitively as possible. This required work on many fronts, from careful consideration of the strategies that were to be adopted, deciding how and where services distribution around the building was to be arranged, through to delivering the design on site.

Invisible engineering

The services are almost invisible in the gallery spaces and make use of heat recovery, efficient fans and intelligent controls to maximise efficiency and react to the building's use. The mechanical air conditioning system is designed to provide current international environmental control standards for artwork, while also fitting within the historic architecture of the building. This involved splitting down the air handling components to locate them into areas where they would fit, while still providing a comprehensive system. In the Great Room gallery we developed a bespoke supply air outlet, disguised by a removable mesh, to blend with the finish of the room. 

Video for RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist 2023

Balanced acoustics

Our acoustics input focussed on managing noise transfer between spaces and noise break-in from the variety of activities (including concerts, film screenings and ice skating) that occur in the Somerset House courtyard. We also provided acoustic modelling and audio simulations of the effect of reconfiguring the library and removing much of the books and shelving.

“The opening of the Courtauld Gallery is a cultural highlight of 2021, bringing our unique collection back to public display. Thank you most sincerely for the expertise, dedication and achievements of Max Fordham in delivering the new Courtauld Gallery with such finesse." 

 Lord Browne of Madingley Chairman of The Courtauld
2023 RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist