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London’s National Gallery Slated for $35 Million Upgrade

Officials at London’s National Gallery have announced that the institution will receive a major upgrade of its public amenities ahead of its two hundredth anniversary, in 2024. Estimated to cost between $35 million and $43 million, and paid for via a soon-to-be-launched fundraising campaign, the upgrade will comprise the restoration of the Sainsbury Wing lobby, as well as the creation of a new research center and the improvement of the outdoor area at the edge of Trafalgar Square.

Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi, noting that “we are beginning to see the end of Covid-19,” explained that though it might be a half decade before the institution welcomes the six million annual visitors it was greeting before the pandemic, he and his compatriots believe that tourists will return to London and that the National Gallery wants to be “part of the recovery.”

The Architect’s Paper notes that the Sainsbury Wing appending the 1838 National Gallery building was greeted with outrage upon its 1991 opening, but that public sentiment shifted over the ensuing years, with the wing in 2018 being awarded the UK’s highest landmark status, that of a Grade 1 listing. The project brief describes the Sainsbury Wing foyer—which was designed as an auxiliary entrance meant to accommodate an annual audience of three million visitors, and which only became the National Gallery’s main entrance in 2018—as “uninviting, underwhelming, and confusing.” The wing’s Grade 1 listing restricts the type and scope of changes that may be made to the lobby, but it is said that new space may be safely carved out of the existing museum shop there, and that a revamped shop and restaurant may bring in sorely needed new income.

The new research center will offer more public access than the present library, and will likely be located in the lower level of the 1838 building, near its juncture with the Sainsbury Wing. The space just outside the wing, which borders but is not a part of Trafalgar Square, will also receive a sprucing-up, with all renovations being done with an eye to security, as the gallery is close to the Canadian and South African diplomatic missions.

Design teams are encouraged to submit their proposals through March 18; a shortlist will be culled from the applicants, with the winner announced in July. The work is expected to take place in phases over the course of five years, with the completion of the first phase, the renovation of the lobby, planned for May 2024, in time for anniversary celebrations.

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