V&A Photography Centre by David Kohn Architects

V&A Photography Centre by David Kohn Architects

The new V&A Photography Centre, designed by David Kohn Architects (DKA), recently opened at the V&A Museum in London. The new gallery more than doubles the space to display photography at the museum.

DKA were appointed to design the V&A Photography Centre in 2016 following an invited design competition. The project is the practice's largest museum project to date, and forms part of the V&A's ambitious FuturePlan development program to revitalize the museum's public spaces through contemporary design and the restoration of original features.

DKA's design celebrates the grandeur of three galleries in a listed building, reconfiguring the space through a series of subtle interventions to create a contemporary display setting. The visitor experience begins on the entrance landing, where two large cases display 140 cameras from the collection to introduce the story of photography from its origins to the present day. Inside, the room arrangement encourages visitors to circulate around displays presenting the full spectrum of objects, from negatives and photographs to cameras, archive materials and photographers' personal belongings.

"Every photograph is a portal to a moment in history. In the new Photography Centre we are able to present the V&A's incredible collection alongside cameras and other related artefacts that bring the story of each photograph to life - taking visitors beyond the image and into the rich social and cultural contexts of their inception," David Kohn commented. "Architecture and photography surround us, and we have enjoyed exploring both historic and contemporary connections between them."

Historic connections between architecture and photography are referenced by the 'dark tent': a multimedia projection and lecture space inspired by the traveling darkrooms of photography pioneers of the 19th century. David Kohn Architects - whose work often explores ideas around 'buildings within buildings' - have also extended this concept to a series of bespoke modular display cabinets. Each is designed as a miniature house in its own right, and together can be easily reconfigured to permit greater flexibility and varied displays. Matching wall cabinets and gallery seating ensure the coherence of the overall design.

DKA's design offers a clear departure from static exhibition display: a specially-designed handling table means visitors can encounter cameras up close, while other interactive elements include a bespoke case incorporating four stereoscopic viewers where visitors can experience this early form of photographic image. As well as displays exploring photography's rich history, a digital wall showing the most cutting-edge photographic imagery invites speculation on the medium's future.

New lighting creates a rich variation of atmosphere within the galleries, and DKA worked carefully with curators and engineers to develop a discreet approach to climate control that creates optimum conditions for fragile and light sensitive photographs, thanks to a bespoke ventilation system above the gallery on the museum roof. The introduction of a layer of insulation to the gallery ceilings ensures a more constant temperature and reduced heat loss while existing historic wall penetrations were used to minimise the impact on the historic building.

Photography: Will Pryce