Visualisation of the new Garden Classroom. Image by Forbes Massie.
The new polished concrete floor being poured in the Museum
Visualisation of the view from the cafe into the Sackler courtyard garden. Image by Forbes Massie.
An Update from the Garden Museum Development Project
Paula McWaters, a journalist and member of the Museum’s Garden Visits Committee has very kindly agreed to write a series of reports which bring the project to life. This is the first, after her visit to site this Spring:
Since the Garden Museum closed its doors at the end of October last year for its £7.5 million restoration project it has been impossible to imagine what is going on behind the hoardings on Lambeth Road and what might emerge when the museum reopens in early 2017. So it is with a great sense of anticipation that I'm let in through the gate on a chilly Spring morning to don hard hat, hi vis jacket and steel-capped boots and take a look around the site with Museum Director Christopher Woodward and Development Officer Kezia Evans.
With the clamour of drills and reversing diggers in our ears, plus workmen coming in and out of doorways with scaffold planks and barrows, it seems prudent to decamp upstairs and observe the main body of the church from the relative safety of the mezzanine.
The shop, cafe, offices and stage have all been stripped out, revealing just how luminous and airy a space this is. Plastic casings have been removed from the outside of the stained glass windows, which has improved the quality of light. The surface of the floor has been stripped away and underfloor heating will soon go down in the nave, to be topped with polished concrete.
At the top of the existing staircase, which will remain as it is, the mezzanine will extend along the length of the church at first floor level, over the top of the South aisle towards the chancel and a second staircase will be built at the other end to bring visitors down to the new shop - located more or less where the old cafe was in the north-east corner. The new section will effectively double the mezzanine's size, allowing much more room for exhibition space.
Due to the strip out, the eye is drawn to the features of the building itself and it is heartening to see what good condition the pale stone walls and vaulted wooden ceiling are in - perhaps unusually so in a church of this age. Along the walls at high level is a series of carved stone angel corbels and Kezia points out how these will be highlighted by the new lighting scheme that is going in.
Downstairs in the chancel, behind what was the stage, two 16th century wall tombs have been revealed. These are believed to have been made by the same school of carvers that worked on St George's Chapel, Windsor and they will form part of the new Ark gallery, where the John Tradescant collection will be displayed. Before we turn away to go outside, Christopher points out a boarded over hole in the floor, covering a new discovery during the building works. It leads to a small vault, too fragile to enter, which will be explored and investigated in the coming weeks.
Where the cafe tables used to be, a series of huge ledger stones (inscribed commemorative floor slabs), some almost 20cm thick, are stacked in piles. There are plans to set these into the new floor when it is laid, making more of a feature of them.
Outside, great progress has been made already towards the setting out of the new educational space. Lines spray-painted in red on the earth mark the outlines of the new buildings and these give a real sense of how this area will shape up. New classroom space is being created, large enough for 60 to be seated lecture-style. In another corner there will be a second classroom with cooking facilities and these will be linked by covered walkways. Kezia explains how this will increase the Museum's scope for education, particularly for secondary school students.
One of the biggest changes will be the new vista being opened up from Lambeth Road. "We are often told, even by people who pass by every day, that they never knew we were here," says Christopher. "The garden and the cafe were both hidden. Now, when people sweep by on the bus or in their cars they will be able to see right through into the new garden that Dan Pearson has designed and at night it will be illuminated, which we hope will intrigue and entice them to come and explore."
I ask Christopher what he hopes for when the work is complete. "It's very exciting to see the preserved church as the heart of the project, with its architecture looking so proud now that it has been uncluttered by modern partitions and offices," he says. "When Friends walk in on day one, I hope they will recognise everything they value in the Museum as it was but be stunned by what's new".
To find out more about the Garden Museum Development Project, CLICK HERE.