Inside London’s stunning $70M museum revamp

Editor’s Note: British architect Amanda Levete is CNN Style’s guest editor in September 2017.

London CNN  — 

One of the year’s most anticipated architectural endeavors, the Exhibition Road Quarter designed by Amanda Levete and her practice, AL_A, opens today at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The bold addition features the world’s first all-porcelain public courtyard, paved with 11,000 handmade porcelain tiles in 15 different patterns.

The tiles were manufactured by Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, the Netherlands’ oldest registered company, established in 1572.

The project also adds 11,840 square feet – about the size of five and a half singles tennis courts – of flexible gallery space to the museum to help accommodate the V&A’s headline exhibitions.

Hidden features

AL_A initially won the competition to design the extension in 2011. Since construction began in January 2014, the project has seen almost 800,000 cubic feet of earth (99% of which was recycled and reused for landscaping) excavated to make way for the new subterranean gallery and the courtyard above it.

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Intended as a meeting point, public square and, of course, museum entrance, the pristine surfaces and crisp lines of the Exhibition Road Quarter sit in direct conversation with the ornate, 19th-century architecture of the original V&A building.

“Working in a building as historic and as beautiful as the V&A was maybe the opposite of a constraint,” says Levete. “If you can negotiate the threshold between modernity and history, then something is really beginning to connect and speak between the two centuries.”

Film by Matthew Donaldson