Wright & Wright’s design solution for the RIBA Reading Rooms within the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Henry Cole Wing resulted in a scheme that opens up the space, introducing daylight into the deep plan, while making organisation more legible and access more inviting. Rather than being constrained by the building’s original structure, inspiration was drawn from it, restating its qualities and making it a key aspect of the remodelling.
Careful survey work revealed bricked-up arches that were opened as portals framing the reading room, defining axes and making the space more permeable. Finely detailed oak joinery emphasises the portal structures. The suspended ceiling was also removed, revealing original mouldings and details. Existing collection stores were retained, but the storage system reconsidered and redesigned.
Bathed in natural light from high windows, the enfilade of rooms around the main archive store were remodelled as reading and study spaces. Glimpses of the neighbouring Brompton Oratory connect the interior with its locale and provide visual interest.
Furniture was purpose designed and has a lucid refinement of form and materials. Generously proportioned tables can accommodate larger prints and drawings or more unorthodox items, such as rolls of William Morris wallpaper. Built-in mirrors amplify the perception of space and also help to deter theft, a perennial problem for special collections. The outcome is a beautifully reinvigorated set of spaces that brings the collections to life and restates the V&A’s intellectual and cultural mission.
Slow-cook architecture is alive and well - it looks both useful and fine.
Former President of RIBA