Chipperfield set to redefine London’s Royal Academy by 2018

Chipperfield set to redefine London’s Royal Academy by 2018

’A series of subtle interventions.’ That is how Sir David Chipperfield has described the £50m redevelopment of The Royal Academy.  

’You would think it’s quite easy to connect two buildings separated by 15 meter gap,’ started the world-renowned architect, ’but as we know, the bricks and mortar of this building are quite simple compared to the complexity of what goes on inside.’  

He was of course referring to the wide range of activities the RA carries out that often go unseen by the public - the lectures and teachings, the forums and its impressive collection. Uniting the two buildings is only half the battle; opening up the site is a greater challenge still.

Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of The Royal Academy of Arts also sees the redevelopment beyond an architectural project, but more as an ideological and psychological shift, ’the idea is to make people aware that the Royal Academy is a richer, more interesting, more complex institution than just a gallery that puts on exhibitions - and somewhere to come not just for the exhibitions.’  

A bridge will physically join the two buildings, linking the former University of London building at Burlington Gardens to Burlington House; joining Mayfair and Piccadilly through the world of art.  

Exhibition space will be effectively doubled allowing more work to go on show, including that of the Royal Academy School students, the Royal Academicians as well as the rarely seen treasures from its private collection and library. New learning spaces and a 260-seat lecture theatre will ensure its legacy as a centre for the training of emerging artist and practitioners remains at its heart.   

Chipperfield is the third architect to draw up plans for the RA’s redevelopment, following the 1998 funding failure of Michael Hopkins & Partners’ and the 2006 passing of Colin St John Wilson. Costing £50m, this redevelopment has been heavily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund - to the tune of £12.7m. The rest of the money (although still £5m short) raised through a number of private individuals and foundations.

Speaking about the project as a whole, Chipperfield remarks that it is ’a small amount of architecture with profound result.’ An admirable, if not humble, summary. More admirable still is the RA’s aim to stay open throughout the building work, due to begin later this year and finish in time for the RA’s 250th anniversary in 2018. An ambitious ask, but if the most inspiring institutions in the country can’t do it, then who can?

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