Saatchi Gallery

Duke of York Square, London. 2008

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2008
  • Clients: Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery builds on the idea that the architectural language of galleries should be subservient to the art on display. The interior of the Grade II* listed Duke of York’s Headquarters is stripped back and reorganised to create an absolutely minimal set of white spaces. A new entrance sequence – focused on visual connectivity and understandable geometry – locates fifteen interconnected galleries over the three levels. Attached to the back of the original building is a new extension which was earlier planned as an office building by PDP/Cadogan. Its structure has been significantly redesigned to create double-height gallery spaces, but its exteriors remain as per the earlier scheme by the Landlord’s Architect. Internally, the detailing of both old and new has been carefully configured to ensure that the architecture recedes into the background.

The brief from the Saatchi Gallery was that the display of the collection should be paramount and that the architectural details of the interiors should be suppressed in favour of an absolutely minimal set of elegant white spaces with an understandable geometry and visual connectivity. Everything had to be subservient to the art itself.

Much of the early design work centred on an analysis of the office scheme and its almost total conversion to gallery. The principal locations of stairs and lifts were fixed and by the time the gallery agreed to lease the building, the exteriors of the new extension had already been designed in detail by PDP/Cadogan in a style complimentary to the rest of their adjacent Duke of York’s mixed use scheme. There was no opportunity for AHMM to bring any influence to bear on the architecture of the new extension. Planning permission had been obtained after long negotiation with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and there was no time within a tight building programme to restart that process.

This was not seen as problematic by the gallery since the fundamental design concept from the gallery’s perspective was the creation of clear and simple interior spaces and the recognisable juxtaposition between the existing listed building and the new galleries. AHMM already had experience on similar sites through working on key cultural projects, such as the refurbishment of the Barbican and the creation of the new 176 gallery in North London. These schemes, and others, including the Tea Building refurbishment for Derwent Valley, required the subtle upgrading of existing buildings where original features were enhanced and new facilities added to update and reinvigorate the total experience.

The Existing Building

Within the existing building, four main galleries have been created on each of the three floors arranged around the original refurbished staircase, the terrazzo of which AHMM were delighted to retain. These galleries form a series of interconnecting spaces, exploiting the elegance of the large, well-proportioned rooms with ceiling heights of over 4m. Floor to ceiling openings created between the spaces provide the visitor with views through the length of the building: at some point on the first floor this equates to almost 200 feet (60.9m).

The grand classical brick and stone façade of the building has been refurbished by the landlord with the original sash windows replaced. The windows are lined internally but contain lighting which gives the building a warm glow in the evenings. The windows on the first floor gallery beneath the portico provide views of the original stone columns, the gallery signage banners and the green beyond. 

A new circulation core containing staircases and lifts takes visitors up to the second floor where the galleries expand into the full height of the original roof space. Here the raw volume, with simple finishes and exposed services, are more reminiscent of a New York loft aesthetic and harks back to the first Saatchi Gallery at Boundary Road. The lower ground floor houses the gallery bookshop, the administrative offices, education rooms, support spaces and toilets.

The New Extension

The new extension with its brick facades under a slate roof designed by PDP is attached to the back of the original building by the new glazed lift and stair core. Working with Arup structures, AHMM redesigned the structure of the extension omitting the second office floor to create a double height space.

Located within the extension is the large art lift which serves both parts of the building with access from the loading yard. Circulation and moving of art pieces was high on the gallery’s operational criteria and many of the openings in the original office scheme had to be widened and heightened to suit the gallery’s functional requirements.


A neutral palette of materials has been used within the interiors in line with the gallery’s brief. 

All lining walls are painted white and are stripped of as much detail as practically possible. Architraving/mouldings/skirting boards have all made way for simple and effective shadow gaps.  The original brickwork walls and stone dressings exposed in the new link building have been made good.

In the circulation areas the floors are large slabs of grey lightly textured limestone. The gallery floors are made of distinctive, wide timber floor planks of Douglas fir, supplied by the Danish family company, Dinesen. The planks are 450mm wide and span the full width of the gallery with a technical confidence. The surface fixings are counter bored and plugged before being meticulously sanded and finished in a white stain, a tour de force of a floor. The floors and ceilings flow meticulously from one gallery to the next making the journey through the galleries as simple and unaffected as possible.

The terrazzo of the post war staircases has been repaired and made good.


This is another in the growing portfolio of AHMM/Arup team collaborations in which building structure and services are relentlessly examined and incorporated quietly and confidently into the whole composition. Arup was retained by the gallery at AHMM’s recommendation to review the services design of the landlord’s team. The chilled beams supplied by the landlord at Arup’s request provide a workable gallery environment.

AHMM also suggested to the gallery that they should approach ERCO the German lighting manufacturers for a complete design and supply service. Working with ERCO and Barrisol, the gallery’s lighting design team, AHMM and ARUP removed all the original office lighting and designed an indirect/direct lighting scheme based on shallow stretched fabric light boxes and an integrated light track. This provides both wall washing and feature lighting for the central gallery spaces. The light boxes punch through the ceiling plane and give the illusion of top- lit light wells. It was essential for the gallery that turnaround time for shows was kept to the minimum and so much of the wall wash lighting is totally even, allowing hanging to be carried out without any major changes to the lighting layouts. Feature lighting can of course be amended by use of the flush ceiling mounted track.

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