Royal Academy of Arts celebrates 250th anniversary with opening of Chipperfield-designed extension

In developing a masterplan for the RA, we proposed a series of small architectural interventions that have a large impact on the provision of facilities and programmatic ambitions
– Sir David Chipperfield

The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) will open its new campus, designed by David Chipperfield, to the public on Saturday (19 May).

To celebrate its 250th anniversary year, the RA – one of the world’s oldest and foremost artist and architect-led institutions – commissioned the renovation of its historic central London home, adding 70 per cent more public space and revealing many of its hidden secrets for the first time.

One of the key features of the redevelopment is a new bridge between two previously separated RA buildings, Burlington House and Burlington Gardens, uniting the two-acre campus. Visitors pass through the vaults of each building, before climbing up a flight of steps to access the crossing. Throughout this new public link, glimpses are offered behind-the-scenes of the RA’s private functions, such as the Schools’ Corridor for students.

The Grade II* Burlington Gardens building was designed by the Victorian architect Sir James Pennethorne as the headquarters for the University of London and acquired by the academy in 2001. Chipperfield has restored many of its original design features, while carefully inserting a 250-seat lecture theatre. A bar has also been added, and the RA’s Dorfman Senate Rooms renovated by Julian Harrap Architects, with the addition of an all-day restaurant.

Sir David Chipperfield said: “In developing a masterplan for the RA, we proposed a series of small architectural interventions that have a large impact on the provision of facilities and programmatic ambitions. By revealing more fully all that the RA encompasses – in particular the schools, the collection and the work of academicians across all disciplines – we hope that further visitors, voices and ideas will be drawn to this living institution.

“On an urban level too, the creation of a new entrance and connection between Burlington Gardens and Burlington House unlocks a part of the city and integrates the RA with the culture of daily life.”

The unification of the campus will allow the academy to expand its exhibition and events programme, and to create new and free displays of art and architecture. The new-look Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries will host temporary exhibitions, beginning with Tacita Dean’s exhibition Landscape, running until 12 August. Festivals, talks, architecture awards and hands-on creative educational activities for families, schools and community groups will also be scheduled.

The academy was founded by King George III in 1768. It is independent, privately funded and led by eminent artists and architects. The redevelopment has been supported by a £12.7m (US$17m, €14.5m) grant from the National Lottery, along with donations from trusts, foundations and individuals.

Commenting on the project, Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, said: “The physical transformation of the site will fundamentally change our almost 250-year old institution. We are, first and foremost, artist and architect-led, home to a community of the world’s greatest artists and architects, and a centre for training artists, with practitioners and an art school at our heart.

“This is not just a major building development; it is an undertaking which will transform the psychological, as well as the physical, nature of the Academy. At long last, we will be able to open up the RA and share with the public more of our mission to promote the understanding, appreciation and practice of art and architecture.”

Royal Academy of Arts  David Chipperfield  Burlington House  Burlington Gardens  Charles Saumarez Smith 
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