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Royal Academy opens new ‘Weston Bridge’ in 250th anniversary year

Conservation project at Number Six Burlington Gardens also begins

21 May, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

The Weston Bridge

IT has long been a challenge of architects working in central London: how do you marry the glorious old with the shiny contemporary?

It is a debate that has long raged, from Wren’s designs for London after 1666 to Nash and the Prince Regent drawing up schemes that were never fully completed, or the argument that raged in the 1980s over the extension to the National Gallery that Prince Charles called a “monstrous carbuncle”.

And so to Piccadilly, where this weekend the Royal Academy opens formally a redevelopment by architect Sir David Chipperfield, with the ribbon cut as the esteemed institute celebrates its 250th birthday.

Sir David has created what they call the Weston Bridge – a new link between Burlington House and Burlington Gardens that forms a route between Piccadilly and Mayfair and has forged a whopping 70-per cent more floor space – meaning plenty more room for exhibitions and events.

Sir David, himself a Royal Academician, said he was able to make subtle changes to produce big results. “The project is an architectural solution embedded in the place itself, a series of subtle interventions which will add up to something very different,” he said. “The big change is that the Royal Academy have two entrances – a front door facing Piccadilly in the south and a new front door to Burlington Gardens, Cork Street and Bond Street. You will be able to go from an exhibition in Burlington House to a lecture in Burlington Gardens through the vaults of the building. You will see the Cast Corridor and you will see where the RA Schools have been all this time. It’s a small amount of architecture for a profound result.”

And a thrilled Tim Marlow, the artistic director, added it would greatly increase the work they could do.“The new Royal Academy will become the most animated cultural campus in central London, running all the way through from Piccadilly to Mayfair,” he said. “The redevelopment gives us amazing flexibility and capacity to be much more ambitious with our public programming, our exhibitions, learning and debate.”

Diary has had a peek and it looks utterly spectacular: as well offering a new way for people to explore the collections, you will be able to understand the work they do in a whole new way. Sir Davids’ designs include the new Weston Studio and a public project space for students and alumni.

But as well as bringing in the new, the work has preserved the old. A conservation project on the Grade-II* listed building at Number Six Burlington Gardens has also been completed.

The RA bought it in 2001 – it sits directly behind their HQ and housed the Museum of Mankind. Designed by Sir James Pennethorne, it was used as the headquarters of the University of London when it first opened. It has long been considered a jewel of Victorian architecture in Mayfair and the restoration project shows exactly why.

And filling the new galleries has been a joy for Marlow and his colleagues. They have found room for pieces by the likes of Constable, Gainsborough and Michelangelo.

The architecture feels like it has made the dear old RA fit for the next 250 years. Bravo!

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