London’s renovated National Portrait Gallery reopens to public

London, UK’s renovated National Portrait Gallery, designed by Canadian ex-pat Jamie Fobert, has reopened to the public.

National Portrait Gallery new entrance and forecourt (Photo: Olivier Hess)

After three years of being closed and a major transformation to its building, London’s National Portrait Gallery, which was the first portrait gallery in the world, is celebrating its reopening.

Designed by Canadian ex-pat Jamie Fobert, the gallery is located in a Grade I-Listed building, which was built to create a permanent home for the national collection of portraits in 1896.

Led by Jamie Fobert Architects, alongside heritage architects Purcell and a highly skilled design team, the gallery has undergone a complete refurbishment and reconsideration.

From a new public forecourt, which leads to a generous entry hall, to the creation of a dynamic new learning centre, this project has opened up areas that have been hidden for decades. The building has also been reorientated to face the city and connects the Gallery with the area of London.

Another major element of the project has been the creation of The Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre with two levels joined with an elevator as well as a new, curving stair within a volume cut out of the building.

A complete restoration of the gallery spaces has also been part of the project. This includes the opening of infilled arches and windows which were once blocked. Rooflights covered in the Second World War have also been reinstated.

The wooden floors have been brought back to the deep lustre of the original teak after being faded by the sunlight and the ceilings of all the galleries have been restored and unified with a single colour.

Lighting has also been lifted by engineer Max Fordham up into the lanterns of the third floor galleries, so that it disappears from view.

“The architecture project was primarily driven by the desire for the Gallery to turn to face the city, to open up to the public in a way the original building did not, to bring back to life the gallery spaces, and to focus attention on the handsome Victorian architecture which had been obscured. It has been an extremely collaborative project on every level,” said Fobert.

“We have worked closely with heritage architects. Purcell, on all aspects of the building fabric, along with a design team of the highest quality. In all that we have done, we have been guided by the National Portrait Gallery’s director, Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, whose vision has been clear and consistent throughout. No longer awkward or overlooked, the National Portrait Gallery can now stand confidently facing the city: the great historic building Londoners never knew they had.”

Aside from the architectural project, the National Portrait Gallery has also undertaken a re-display and reinterpretation of the world’s largest collection of portraits which tell a story of history and culture in the United Kingdom.

“The National Portrait Gallery is a gallery about people and for people. We share the incredible stories of those past and present have shaped our history, so what better time than our reopening day to create interaction with some of our fascinating sitters,” said Denise Vogelsang, director of communications and digital, National Portrait Gallery.