V&A Exhibition Road Quarter  ; V&A Exhibition Road Quarter  ;

V&A Museum Exhibition Road, London

Is it possible to keep a museum fully operational while undergoing major construction works?

The V&A Exhibition Road project includes the creation of an additional exhibition gallery, a public courtyard, and a new entrance to the museum to improve visitors’ experiences and increase footfall. Working together with architects AL_A, Arup’s main challenge was to operate in a historic site surrounded by three listed buildings with unusual and fragile facades while ensuring an economic structural design. 

With most of the works carried out below ground and in some cases below the existing buildings and pilling occurring extremely close to existing structures, the Sainsbury Gallery, the Sackler Courtyard and the Blavatnik Hall were opened in 2017 without interrupting the museum’s daily activities. The V&A remained fully operational, and visitors could continue enjoying one of the world’s richest collections of art and historical artefacts.

The project has not only been awarded multiple awards for its design but also received a BREEAM Excellent certification owing to its environmental performance. 

Project Summary

1,100 column free gallery

25%less carbon emissions compared to Building Regulation requirements

26%more visitors

Working adjacent to, and below listed buildings

The project extends 18m below the ground with a total of 22,500m3 of soil removed from the site to create the Sainsbury Gallery, a 1,100sqm column-free exhibition space for temporary exhibitions that occupies the entire courtyard. We carried out detailed analysis of the complex design and construction issues to ensure piling works taking place within 300mm of the existing structures would not cause any damage.

A three-dimensional geotechnical analysis model was created to predict building movement resulting in less than 20mm of movement of the existing buildings. The use of these techniques was vital to save the delicate surrounding facades and to preserve the area’s cultural heritage for the benefit of both present and future generations.

Flexible, column-free design

The roof of the gallery was another highlight of the project. Formed from a series of 13 stunning triangular steel trusses, it had to be strong enough to support both crowd and object loads. Our design achieved this goal while creating one of the largest column-free temporary exhibition galleries in Europe, allowing more visitors to access a larger space and a clearer view of the objects and artefacts exhibited. 

© Hufton + Crow

While working below the ground, our team identified critical plant rooms that distributed hot water and power. Understanding the complex network of existing pipe routes, wires and cables and finding a space to relocate them was one of the additional challenges faced during the project. 


A new visitor experience

Inspired by the rich tradition of ceramics, the Sackler Courtyard was created above the gallery, being the world’s first all-porcelain public courtyard. The complex was finalised with the construction of the Blavatnik Hall, a new entrance into the museum which aimed to transform the visitor experience. This renovated version of the V&A Museum increased the number of visitors by 26% compared to the previous year, with approximately half of the people entering via the Exhibition Road Quarter.

Exhibition road courtyard Exhibition road courtyard
The Sackler Courtyard was created above the gallery, being the world’s first all-porcelain public courtyard. © Hufton + Crow

Achieving environmental excellence

Offering a better experience and increasing visitors were not the only achievements of the project. We adopted sophisticated control strategies for the mechanical systems to deliver the environmental conditions required for the gallery with minimal energy input. The deep basement structure reduced heat transfer, and the passive cooling offset internal lighting heat. Together with thermal wheel energy recovery and night-time purging, this combination significantly reduced the space required for ductwork, chilled water distribution and air handling unit plant. 

The V&A Exhibition Road extension received a BREEAM Excellent certification due to the significant reductions in carbon emissions, achieving a 25% improvement compared to building regulations.

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