Over two years ago in rainy January, the main contract for Exhibition Road was signed, officially starting the project build after years of planning and design. The milestone was marked with a traditional V&A tea and Victoria sponge cake in the Museum’s boardroom, and the teams looked forward to building this project with such a bold, unique vision. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Museum, the Boilerhouse Yard site still looked much as it had for decades, awaiting the great transformation from a collection of disused back of house structures into a beautiful new building and courtyard for public use.
As we approach completion, the once-mossy site is unrecognisable. The intense, repeated digging and concrete pouring that filled the winter months of 2015 is a distant memory. The enormous white props spanning and supporting the site during the ‘big dig’ have done their job and are now gone. Over 22,000 m3 (10 Olympic swimming pools) of unearthed clay has been trucked away from the site, recycled and used for the foundations of a new golf course near Heathrow.
We have a fully formed structure for the courtyard and gallery, and the back of house spaces in the basement are ready for fit out. Walls, shiny new plant and a complex network of heating pipes and cables are going up to support bespoke spaces that will prove vital to maintaining our collections and preparing objects for the display in our headline exhibitions. New subcontractors and specialist tradesmen have joined the team to work up the new spaces, painting fresh coats of white paint on the walls and making the new building waterproof and fit for purpose.
On the 2nd and 3rd of April the tower crane overlooking the site will be removed with the help of a second, enormous mobile crane on Exhibition Road. A massive steel arm will reach over the site and remove each component of the 54 metre crane structure in just two days, to be used on another project. The base will be left in the foundations of the sub-basement and smoothed over with concrete, forever a reminder of the construction and a clue to future generations how it was all accomplished.
The project really is in the throes of enormous change and this evolution from heavy groundworks to delicate refinement of design and installation on site is becoming visible from the street. The structural form of the café is now visible from the hoarding and over the coming months, cables, plasterboard, walls, fixtures and fittings will all be carefully integrated layered over the skeleton-like structure. Glazing elements for the skylight and windows that will reveal the heritage facades are being shipped over from the specialist manufacturers in the Netherlands and fixed into place.
The next major activity is installing the pre-cast concrete steps that will lead visitors down to the new entrance. Each bespoke 7 ton piece has been carefully modelled for the courtyard, and will be carefully guided to the courtyard to be grouted and fixed into place. Everyone in the project team is very excited to see the steps arrive, and we’ve even arranged for a photographer to come and film the process. Watch this space for more exciting updates and pictures of this last part of the courtyard build before the long-awaited tiles are installed in June!