Saatchi Gallery
The new Saatchi Gallery, located within the magnificent Duke of York’s Headquarters building in Chelsea, is one of the largest museums in the world devoted to showing contemporary art. By subtly exploiting the dignity of the original architecture, over 70,000 sqft of new gallery spaces, from large, double-height floors to intimate rooms, have been created with a new circulation system and a range of additional facilities. The architects were appointed by The Saatchi Gallery over 3 years ago to work alongside David Rosen of Pilcher Hershman to find a new location for the art collection and gallery after well-documented problems at County Hall. The Duke of York’s school, built in 1801, was leased by Charles Saatchi for 25 years from the owners Cadogan Estates. Initial work by Paul Davis + Partners architects for Cadogan to convert the building into offices was integrated into the brief for the new gallery where the art should be the hero and the architectural details and services should work to create an absolutely minimal set of white spaces with an understandable geometry and visual connectivity. The key design concept in the new scheme is the tension between the traditional, wood panelled interiors and the spaces of the existing building and the new galleries. The existing circulation of dark, narrow staircases is used to maximise the impact of the range of white box gallery spaces and the art placed within them. Within the main building, four long galleries have been created on each floor arranged around the original staircase at ground and first floor. The galleries form a series of interconnecting spaces, exploiting the elegance of the large, well-proportioned rooms with some ceiling heights of 5m. The large openings and apertures created between the spaces provide the visitor with views through the whole length of the building. The grand façade of the building has been retained with the original windows refurbished and lined, apart from the windows on the first floor gallery windows beneath the portico that provide views of the original stone portico structure and the green beyond. A new circulation core, containing staircases and lifts then takes visitors up to the second floor where the galleries expand up to the full height of the roof space. Here, the raw display spaces with simple finishes on existing materials and exposed services are more reminiscent of the New York loft aesthetic and also echo back to Saatchi’s first gallery on Boundary Road. Also on this floor, small, niche galleries have been carved from within the interior spaces to create a series of more intimate rooms. Back down on the lower ground floor, the administrative offices, education rooms, support spaces, toilets and a large bookshop are located. The new extension is attached to the back of the original building in the centre linking to the new circulation cores at each level and providing access to the three additional galleries and down to visitor toilets and teaching spaces in the basement. The structure of the extension was redesigned with Arup, omitting the second office floor to create a double height space. The double-height basement gallery houses a permanent exhibition of key works from the collection, with the ground and first floor offering different, cubic, large scale volumes for a temporary programme of installations. Also located within the extension is the large art lift which serves both parts of the building. A neutral palette of materials has been used within the scheme to emphasise old and new. The wainscoting and terrazzo on the original staircases have been repaired and made good, as has the exposed brickwork to the new link building. Elsewhere, white painted walls articulate spaces with circulation area floors of large tiles of grey Pietra Serena Limestone and galleries floors made of distinctive, wide timber floor planks of Douglas Fir, supplied by the Danish family company, Dinesen. Working with Erco, the Gallery’s lighting design team, all the original office lighting was removed and an indirect/direct lighting scheme was designed based on stretched fabric light boxes and a Dali light track to provide flexible wall washing and spot lighting to the central gallery spaces where required. Similarly, the ventilation system within the buildings was amended and the design of the heating and cooling systems were radically altered to suit the anticipated gallery loadings. Designed with Arup Engineering, the system uses chilled beams installed flush with the ceiling. The double height space in the extension has a displacement system, whilst the second floor galleries have exposed ductwork painted white running in the apex between the original trusses. The success of the new Saatchi gallery can be measured in the phenomenal number of visitors it has received since opening in October 2008. The subtle neutrality of the spaces have proved flexible enough to accommodate a truly diverse collection of works from China and the Middle East and the gallery has already established itself as a significant new venue in the cultural landscape of the capital.


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