Whisper, gasp and MUMA

Despite Rage Against The Machine's Christmas number one, in an X Factor-doiminated culture one finds oneself contemplating the decline of the Roman Empire less and less. So no wonder Esquire felt a bit overcome when it visited the newly opened Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V&A recently. It wasn’t mistaking our Visigoths for our Ostrogoths that got us all distracted however, but the surroundings.

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Designed by architecture practice MUMA, who are quietly building a reputation for designing the most pleasing museum spaces in the UK (they recently converted a Fifties Cornish telephone exchange for the Newlyn Art Gallery), the £30 million galleries are the best example yet of their ambitious but unshowy approach to exhibition space and seriously rival the exhibits for wow factor. 

The gloomy, labyrinthine maze of the old V&A (where you half expected to encounter an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson) has been re-imagined and opened up into a well-connected series of 10 galleries, protected from the elements above by cleverly placed glass fins and warmed in tone by a series of onyx tablets, elegantly positioned in front of the road-facing windows, filtering a warming glow into the galleries and providing a stunning backdrop for the crucifixes suspended in front. 

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While we’re on matters supernatural, the staircase that connects the gallery levels seemingly hangs in the air, a feat made possible by the use of carefully designed very thin reinforced concrete and specialist bonding materials. According to Simon Usher (the U in MUMA) it was one of the most difficult bits to get right. 

“Like a lot of the other things we realised on this project, the balustrade is something that’s very unique. The end result contributes to a very special experience.” 

MUMA have just beaten 130 other architects to win the contract to refashion the Whitworth galleries in Manchester. One of the plans is to build a café in canopy of the trees. Let’s hope the glue holds.

For more, see www.muma.co.uk and www.vam.ac.uk