News Archive 2023

The Courtauld Institute of Art – ‘Courtauld Connects’ – wins prestigious RIBA National Award

22 Jun 2023

The Courtauld Institute of Art, located in the North Wing of grade l-listed Somerset House, is amongst the buildings recognised in the 2023 RIBA National Awards, celebrating the best architectural projects of the last 12 months.

Designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann with gallery design by Nissen Richards Studio, the redevelopment has revitalised and opened up the magnificent building conceived by Sir William Chambers in the late 1770s to create an inspiring setting for the 21st century.

Overall, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) jury found this “an extremely well-judged project, which lets the spirit of the historic building lead the visitor experience, but uses 21st-century creativity to solve some of its inherent complexities.”

The three-year redevelopment of the Courtauld Gallery was the most significant modernisation project in its history, providing a transformed home for one of the UK’s greatest art collections.

Highlights include the spectacular, newly restored LVMH Great Room, London’s oldest purpose-built exhibition space which is now home to The Courtauld’s world-famous collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art by artists including Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, and others.

The Blavatnik Fine Rooms, spanning the entire second floor, provide a beautiful setting for works from the Renaissance to the 18th century. New rooms devoted to 20th century art and the Bloomsbury Group showcase lesser-known aspects of the collection, and a new Project Space spotlights temporary projects to connect the public with the institution’s work as a leading centre for the study of art history.

The new Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries on the 3rd Floor have showcased temporary exhibitions since the Gallery reopened, including Modern Drawings: The Karshan Gift; Van Gogh. Self-Portraits; Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen; Fuseli and the Modern Woman and Peter Doig.

The reopening marked the completion of the first phase of Courtauld Connects, a project to open up the institution both spatially and culturally. Accessibility to the Gallery has been dramatically improved, and new interpretation and display of the artworks has made them more engaging than ever before.

Stephen Witherford, Director of Witherford Watson Mann Architects, said: ‘We hugely appreciate this recognition by the judging panel. If we have done our job well, it is often not obvious to the untrained eye – it can all feel self-evident and seem like nothing much has changed. Yet this project is the outcome of nine years of intense collaboration with client and contractor, with many invisible or very discreet interventions on top of several bolder ones. This is all at the service of a change of culture that is starting to be felt. The Courtauld is certainly the most challenging project that we have realised as a practice to date.’

The Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of The Courtauld, said: “The respectful redevelopment by Witherford Watson Mann gives the Collection a great new home. The Gallery is designed to inspire and engage visitors. It is light, practical and beautiful, and affords us a glimpse into the wonder of humankind’s interaction with the world through the prism of art. It is a fitting testament to the centrality of art to the human condition.

Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld, said: “Witherford Watson Mann have succeeded in realising the potential of this wonderful William Chambers’ building, making it fully accessible by means of strategic architectural interventions and delicate changes – while celebrating the best of its unique features, 18th century proportions and design. They approached our extraordinary Grade 1 listed building, with sensitivity and intelligence giving it and The Courtauld a whole new future. It now works beautifully for our several inter-related purposes – as the home to a great collection which everyone can enjoy, and as set of spaces which inspire study, learning and professional education.”

Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery, said: “One of the central goals of this project was to bring The Courtauld’s great art collection into harmony with William Chambers’s exceptional building, thereby creating an inspiring experience for our visitors. We are delighted that the RIBA judges have recognised the judgement, skill and care with which Witherford Watson Mann responded to this brief.”

The transformation of The Courtauld was supported by £11 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a generous donation of £10 million from philanthropists Sir Leonard and Lady Blavatnik, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Additional major support was provided by AKO Foundation, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, The John Browne Charitable Trust, Denise Coates CBE, Crankstart, The Garcia Family Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Dr Martin and Susanne Halusa, The Linbury Trust, LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton and Oak Foundation. The Courtauld is most grateful to these visionary supporters, alongside others who are making this project and its related activities possible. The collection cared for by the Courtauld Gallery belongs to the Samuel Courtauld Trust.