‘It Was Not Easy’: Architect David Chipperfield on His Surgical Overhaul of London’s Royal Academy

artnet News | Javier Pes

Shortly after Charles Saumarez Smith became the secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts a decade ago, he wrote a history of the august institution, which started out 250 years ago when a group of leading artists decided to seek royal patronage and turn themselves into an academy. “It all began with a monumental row,” he wrote of the group, which emerged out of competing factions of artists vying for status. There have been many more rows, feuds, and quarrels over the years. But this week, London’s prestigious artist- and architect-run institution stands united and is in a party mood.

The reason for the festivities is the completion of a £56 million ($64 million) transformation, which has been masterplanned by one of its members, David Chipperfield RA, in its 250th anniversary year. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new-look RA last month and gave her approval to what the institution now calls its “campus.” Unveiled to VIPs this week and to the public on May 19, the renovation unites its two buildings, which stand back to back in the heart of London, for the first time. The distance between them is modest, but finding a way to bridge them has taken the RA three architects and nearly two decades. Chipperfield’s design is the third scheme put forward to upgrade and unite the institution—and it is markedly subtle. In fact, the only conspicuous piece of new architecture is a bridge that spans the narrow gap between Burlington House, which faces south onto Piccadilly, and Burlington Gardens, which faces Mayfair to the north…read more

Image: Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Royal Academy of Arts)