Arup engineers V&A Exhibition Road Quarter

Arup has led an innovative and complex engineering project for the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, providing The Blavatnik Hall, a new entrance into the V&A; The Sackler Courtyard, the world’s first all-porcelain public courtyard; and The Sainsbury Gallery, a purpose built gallery for temporary exhibitions.

Designed by Stirling Prize-winning British architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter showcases the best of contemporary design, as well as celebrating the beauty of the Museum’s existing buildings. The new Sainsbury Gallery provides 1,100 square metres of column-free space with a stunning 36m spanning folded plate steel roof, which will be one of the largest temporary exhibition galleries in Europe.

Repurposing back-of-house areas of the V&A into new beautiful public spaces was a complex task, with a constrained site surrounded by three historic listed buildings. Creating The Blavatnik Hall and the entrance staircase to The Sainsbury Gallery through and under the listed Western Range Building was one of the most ambitious feats of engineering. The structure, services and circulation had to weave through this area where the old and the new intersect, as well as providing daylighting and views through large skylights.

The Arup team also helped the V&A to remain open and operational throughout the project, collaborating on a series of essential enabling works to re-route services before the main construction commenced.  Arup’s Building Services team collaborated with the V&A as these works were all time critical, and the Museum remained fully operational throughout.

“It has been an amazing privilege to contribute to a new world-class exhibition facility and entrance to the V&A in a truly transformative project. Key to the success of this project has been close collaboration between all members of the team committed to solving significant challenges presented by the site and the high expectations of the client”, Alice Blair, Senior Structural Engineer.

On track to achieve BREEAM Excellent certification, the scheme delivers significant reductions in carbon emissions, achieving a 25% improvement compared to Building Regulation requirements. Working within the opportunities this unique site offered; the design capitalises on the thermal mass of the deep basement structure, which reduces heat transfer, providing a stable environment for exhibits displayed in The Sainsbury Gallery. Collaborating with the V&A, Arup has adopted sophisticated control strategies for the mechanical systems to deliver environmental conditions required for the gallery with minimal energy input.

Rachel Harris, Lead Building Services Associate Engineer:

“It’s been a pleasure to work with a client who has such an enlightened approach to energy efficiency and sustainable building design. We have worked with the Museum over a number of years to develop innovative and low energy passive solutions for the environmental control of V&A galleries.  The V&A Exhibition Road Quarter project is a culmination of that work and is an exemplar for sustainable museum design. The project is on track to achieve BREEAM Excellent certification; this is a fantastic achievement given the constraints of the site and the heritage context.”

The structural engineering design balances pragmatism with the use of complex analysis.  The Arup team collaborated with AL_A to optimise the geometry and weight of the folded plate roof. 3D analysis was used to predict building movements during excavation. This was considered along with practical discussions with contractors on how close to construct piles next to existing buildings, where to provide temporary supports and how best to sequence the construction works. This allowed the team to optimise the most effective use of space whilst reducing risks.

Carolina Bartram, Project Director:

“This project has been about collaboration between the design team, the V&A and the contractors in order to deliver this challenging yet wonderful project. I have been working on this site since 2001 and it has been amazing to be part of a process that reveals and unlocks this part of the museum in such a creative way. The nature of the new space is such that it is mainly hidden yet feels relatively effortless; concealing the intensely complex technical and architectural processes that were required.”

Revealing previously hidden facades of the original museum buildings, including the delicate sgraffito decoration on the Henry Cole Wing, which will be made publicly visible for the first time since its completion in 1873. The aesthetic simplicity of the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter belies the complexity of engineering designs.