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After a long period of mismanagement, the United Kingdom’s dispersed national collections of photography have found a generous and stylish permanent home worthy of their quality. Deep within the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, a new suite of four rooms designed by the joint team of Purcell and young practice Gibson Thornley, alongside existing space completed in 2019 by David Kohn, will hold the V&A’s photographic collection as well as newly acquired prints and negatives. “We are now up there with the Metropolitan, the Getty, and the Pompidou in terms of the size and significance of the collection,” says V&A Director of Photography Duncan Forbes. The design of the facility, now totaling seven rooms including galleries and a library, matches this new status and subtly expresses the curatorial intention to create a dialogue between past and present.

a museum library space with a mezzanine.

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a museum library space with a mezzanine

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a museum library space with a mezzanine

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view of a museum gallery with large-scale photographs.


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A prominent architectural feature of the new center is the library mezzanine walkway with bridges that feature balustrades fabricated from clasped brass rods (1,2,3); a new public gallery at the V&A Photography Centre (4). Photos © Thomas Adank (1,4), Jim Stephenson (2,3)

The V&A Photography Centre is situated at the northeast corner of the Grade I–listed museum complex, and was originally a suite of four painting galleries but more recently used as back-of-house and education spaces. Accessed through a bridged section of the third floor, visitors enter through a gallery dedicated to floor-to-ceiling video and photographic installations. To the south, two intact Kohn-designed galleries house the V&A’s historic collection. To the north, the new rooms open enfilade, connected by impeccably restored arched doorways.

First in the sequence is a library holding much of the National Photographic Society collection. Visitors are surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with photography books, binders, and folios. The room also contains a key architectural intervention—a beautiful mezzanine made from a champagne-colored manganese