By Rowan Moore
Burrowing under the V&A to build a new gallery beneath a porcelain-tiled courtyard, Amanda Levete Architects’ bold £55m design delivers space, light and spectacle
Don’t forget your sunglasses. Or your ski goggles. It’s the brightness you notice first, walking down Exhibition Road towards what used to be a dowdy side entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a white glow backlighting the Portland stone pillars of a reinstated 1901 screen, walls between the column bases having been removed for greater permeability. Through the screen and into a new courtyard the light becomes on a sunny June morning blinding, bouncing around the ceramic paving and ceramic roof of a new structure.
The light announces as clearly as possible the intention to open up and be accessible, to subvert and infiltrate the lugubrious masonry of the museum’s existing buildings, to animate both them and the reluctant avenue that is Exhibition Road, to brighten dull winter days. Accessible of course is what all modern museums want to be. With the V&A’s new development it’s specially important, as the main object of the project is to create a venue for the ever more blockbustery blockbuster exhibitions (Bowie, McQueen, Pink Floyd), with their hundreds of thousands of visitors, that are now a vital part of their operations.