Illustration of how the spaces outside the Sainsbury Wing and on Trafalgar Square could look on completion.

Credit: Selldorf Architects

The thinking behind the changes to the Sainsbury Wing

In 1981, a design competition was launched for a new extension to the National Gallery. In 1985, the Sainsburys announced that they would generously fund a new wing entirely for the use of the Gallery and following another search Venturi was selected as the National Gallery’s preferred architect. Venturi perfected his designs according to the Gallery’s brief, paying particular care to ensure that the space would be appropriate for the early Renaissance paintings and in 1991 the Sainsbury Wing was completed. It then became the main entrance to the National Gallery in 2018.

Although it wasn’t designed for this purpose, it’s now the first experience of the Gallery for some six million visitors every year, and it has been clear to us for some time that it doesn’t provide a welcome that is truly in keeping with our world class gallery spaces.

Our vision is to futureproof the Grade I listed Sainsbury Wing and enhance its magnificent postmodern features, by conserving what is architecturally important with a series of sensitive changes to less significant areas inside of the building. We are not proposing to make any changes to the gallery spaces in the Sainsbury Wing.

We have appointed a very experienced design team, led by Selldorf Architects, with conservation specialists Purcell, to help us achieve this. Together they will also carefully adapt specific areas within the Wilkins Building, which is also listed, to provide a new Research Centre, other public spaces and a new dedicated space for our members.

Our proposals at a glance:

Create a more intuitive and inclusive journey for visitors as they enter the Sainsbury Wing. One that is much more visible and easier to navigate for all, while helping to reduce barriers to entry, including the need to queue outside for long periods of time.

Create an improved experience and foyer for the Sainsbury Wing, one that is less cramped and has a better relationship to the more significant parts of the building, such as the staircase and the second-floor gallery spaces.

Breathe life into the other under-used spaces at ground floor level within the Sainsbury Wing and Wilkins Building to provide better public access; improve visitors’ experience; transform the Research Centre, and potentially create a new space for members.

Bring more natural light into the Sainsbury Wing and improve views out to Trafalgar Square by potentially replacing areas of dark glass.

Make the space safer and more comfortable for visitors by improving amenities, wayfinding and building facilities.

Futureproof the buildings of the Gallery and make them even more efficient. We want to use less energy, emit less carbon and become even more environmentally sustainable.

The main lobby of the Sainsbury Wing as it stands today.

Our proposals would bring more light to the Sainsbury Wing entrance and make it easier for visitors to navigate.

Credit: Selldorf Architects

Using Venturi Scott Brown’s early concept sketch of the Sainsbury Wing (far left) we have set out a series of illustrations showing what we hope to achieve with the NG200 project – a series of sensitive interventions to bring in more light and make this an even more welcoming place.

Sustainability and futureproofing the buildings

We also need to play our part in tackling the climate crisis by making our buildings much more environmentally sustainable. We already have a decarbonisation programme and we have kept a close track of our progress since 2005. To date, this has helped us reduce energy use associated carbon by around 42%.

For the NG200 project, we want to build on this success and are looking into strategies that embrace sustainable design, conservation, construction and apply practices that include reusable energy, alternative energy strategies and waste management.

We are still developing this and will provide more details on proposals later this year.

Rethinking the spaces outside the Gallery

The area surrounding the Wilkins Building as it joins the Sainsbury Wing is very different to when both buildings were initially conceived, and up until 2003 a busy road actually ran in front.

As one of the most important art museums in the world, we think the National Gallery needs to be welcoming, accessible and open to all, and we want the spaces immediately outside to reflect this.

We’re at an evolving stage in this work and there are lots of important stakeholders that we will be continuing conversations with over the next few months. However,  we are exploring:

Whether we can change the space immediately in front of the south-west corner of the Wilkins Building to better connect the buildings and Trafalgar Square to the public.

Reassessing the layout of this corner to potentially create a new public square from what is currently an unused back of house area.

Providing a directly accessible entrance to our new Research Centre off Trafalgar Square.

Re-introducing trees that once existed on the north of Trafalgar Square.

Looking at how visual links between the buildings could be improved.

The National Gallery today, with the Sainsbury Wing far left.

Concept illustration of the public realm improvements outside the Sainsbury Wing on Trafalgar Square.

Credit: Vogt Landscape Architects.

Improved accessibility and connections

New connections between the Sainsbury Wing and Wilkins Building will provide an improved and simpler journey for visitors.

Credit: Selldorf Architects

Illustration of how improvements to Jubilee Walk will help facilitate better north to south connections.

As part of the NG200 project we want to look at our buildings, their accessibility and how they relate to one another.

Inside the Gallery, this means thinking about whether we can create some new connections at the lower level so that visitors have more freedom to determine their own path as they explore our exhibitions.

Outside the Gallery, this also means considering how we can improve pedestrian access along Jubilee Walk, which is the area of land in-between the Sainsbury Wing and the Wilkins Building owned by the Gallery. We think this could become a better and more visible route from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square.