V&A Photography Centre

A second phase of development for the V&A’s Photography Centre, this sequence of five galleries demanded an architecture agile enough to clearly explain the idea of photography while addressing complex structural and curatorial challenges. The visitor experience ebbs and flows in intensity along the enfilade of rooms but remains coherent with the first phase.

The first room, a digital gallery, instantly engages visitors with a large-scale video piece. This immersive space contrasts with the next room, a library, which has a feeling of snug enclosure, presenting a moment to stop or study. The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) book collection forms the inner lining of the space, supported by a finely detailed structure of bookshelves, balustrades and bridges cantilevered from the gallery walls to avoid loading to the floors. We wrapped this scenography with a freestanding wall offering glimpses of a back-of-house space for the librarians.

The architecture takes a step back in the two display galleries that follow, minimising visual noise to maximise the impact of larger-scale pieces. Simple display cases, a new parquet floor and track lighting touch the historic shell lightly, giving a feel of openness and volume.

The scheme was co-designed with a group of young people to ensure the spaces felt relevant and inclusive. Their participation is evident in the final room, an interactive gallery, where they proposed an increased emphasis on the fundamentals of photography. A camera obscura demonstrates the photographic process, while artefacts hover above cases lined in two-way glass, their workings exposed via backlighting at the touch of a button.