Situated in the south-western corner of the V&A South Kensington site, Gallery 40 is one of the museum’s largest and most architecturally distinctive interior spaces. The simplified neo-classical gallery, 1600 sqm in area, is based on an octagonal plan with four deep circular alcoves below a flattened domed glass roof.
The space formed part of Aston Webb’s Grade I listed 1909 extension of the museum, and originally exhibited the museum’s loan collection. In 1962, a fine steel frame mezzanine was introduced to house the musical instrument exhibits. At that same moment, Webb’s mosaic floor was covered with linoleum, the grand gallery entrances blocked in, and a series of orthogonal exhibition cases installed for the fashion collection. Subsequent decades of piecemeal alterations gradually concealed the qualities of the original volume and the mezzanine structure; the soaring dome and orbital geometries of Webb’s room were lost to an introverted and cluttered darkness.
Through a careful process of subtraction, the quality of Webb’s original architecture has been revealed: its innate circular geometries are intensified, the mosaic floor restored and the spatial continuity from floor to dome renewed. Three circular rings suspended from the dome provide flexible lighting for temporary exhibitions on the mezzanine. Together, the circular mezzanine and lighting rings respond to the geometry of the original space at a grand scale, while lightly echoing the fabrication of the steel columns introduced in the early 1960s. Gallery 40 will house the fashion collection and temporary exhibitions for the next seven years. 6a Architects’ work restores the primary architecture of the gallery for the fashion display in the medium term and anticipates the next phase in the museum’s redevelopment. The white secondary architectural elements now stand lightly within the Edwardian volume, creating a new space in which 1909, 1962, 2012 and beyond coexist.