National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square, London Visitors Attraction, English Architecture Photos

National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square

26 June 2023

Design: Jamie Fobert Architects with Purcell

Location: Trafalgar Square, London

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London
photo © Olivier Hess

Photos © Olivier Hess and © Jim Stephenson

National Gallery Building London Renewal Winner

The new National Portrait Gallery in London opens on 22 June 2023 following the most significant redevelopment in its history, led by Jamie Fobert Architects alongside heritage architects Purcell and a highly skilled design team.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London England National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London England
photo © Jim Stephenson

The transformational project, Inspiring People, has seen a complete refurbishment and reconsideration of the Grade I-listed building, including the creation of new public spaces, a more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt, a new learning centre and the restoration of many historic features.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square
photo © Jim Stephenson

The project has opened original windows, doors and roof lights to bring in natural light, and has revealed hidden areas including a Victorian terrazzo floor. The scheme will enrich the visitor experience by improving facilities and bringing into use areas that were previously unused and creating new public spaces fit for 21st century audiences. The project has increased public space by around a fifth, including converting office space into top-lit galleries in the newly named Weston Wing, which will house the Gallery’s contemporary collection.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London
photo © Olivier Hess

Central to the transformation of the Gallery is the new accessible entrance and public forecourt, which repurposes the previously under-used area to the north of the Gallery. To create the new entrance, three of the original windows on the north façade have been altered to form three 4-metre-high doorways into the Gallery. The new bronze doors, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects, feature 45 specially commissioned bronze portraits of women by artist Tracey Emin.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London
photo © Olivier Hess

The new doorways lead into a generous new entrance hall, which is more than double the size of the Gallery’s original foyer. The removal of some original walls and the design of large beams to carry the load of the building above was overseen by the structural engineers Price and Myers. Ensuring visitors encounter art as soon as they enter the building, the new hall includes a presentation of historic and contemporary busts on plinths, designed by Nissen Richards Studio.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square
photo © Jim Stephenson

A major element of the project has been the creation of The Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre, which will provide a better learning experience for children, young people, community groups and adult learners. The Centre has more than doubled the Gallery’s provision for learners, increasing from one studio to three – The Law Photography Studio, The Art Studio and The Clore Studio – and incorporating a gallery space, state of the art digital and photography equipment and improved facilities such as a lunchroom and a new courtyard garden, named The Mildred Garden.

The project has also included the complete restoration of the gallery spaces: blocked windows have been opened, rooflights covered in the Second World War have been reinstated and infilled arches have been reopened. The wooden floors that had faded in sunlight have been brought back to the deep lustre of the original teak. The ceilings of all the galleries have been restored and unified with a single colour. Lighting, which used to hang at the cornice level at the centre of each gallery, has been lifted by engineers Max Fordham up into the lanterns of Floor 3 galleries, so it virtually disappears from view.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square
photo © Jim Stephenson

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “The new National Portrait Gallery represents the most significant transformation in our history since our building opened in 1896. It has been wonderful to work so closely and in such harmony with Jamie Fobert and his team, including Purcell, on this, and I particularly want to congratulate Jamie on the thoughtful way he has moderated a conversation between each of the building’s different epochs in order to create something holistic, coherent and new. Alongside the architecture and as part of what was always intended as a complete transformation, the curators of the Gallery have undertaken a complete rehang of the collection, from top to bottom, Tudors to now, and through many significant new acquisitions and commissions over the last few years, have transformed both the range and quality of the artists and sitters we have on our walls.”

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square
photo © Jim Stephenson

Jamie Fobert said: “The architecture project was primarily driven by the desire for the Gallery to turn to face the city, to open up to the public in a way the original building did not, to bring back to life the gallery spaces, and to focus attention on the handsome Victorian architecture which had been obscured. It has been an extremely collaborative project on every level. We have worked closely with heritage architects, Purcell, on all aspects of the building fabric, along with a design team of the highest quality. In all that we have done, we have been guided by the National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, whose vision has been clear and consistent throughout. No longer awkward or overlooked, the National Portrait Gallery can now stand confidently facing the city: the great historic building Londoners never knew they had.”

Liz Smith, Purcell, said: “Working with a significant heritage asset like the National Portrait Gallery requires a high degree of creativity and inspiration to stay truthful to the original design intent whilst also allowing the building to evolve and remain relevant for today. Purcell’s role allowed us to identify opportunities for change, interfacing with Jamie Fobert Architects’s bold changes to the internal arrangements, which help articulate the function of the rooms through the materiality of the original building. Our intention from the outset was to put ourselves in the mindset of Ewan Christian working collaboratively with the spirit and ethos of the original architecture to upgrade the visitor experience.”

The transformation also includes a complete redisplay of the world’s greatest collection of portraits, spanning six centuries, in the renewed galleries and revitalised spaces. Over 1,100 portraits will be on display when the Gallery reopens on 22 June 2023 – an increase of over a third from pre-closure.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London England
photo © Jim Stephenson

Collaborators on the Inspiring People project include Jamie Fobert Architects; heritage architects, Purcell; structural engineers, Price & Myers; services engineers, Max Fordham; project manager, Gardiner & Theobald; main contractor, Gilbert-Ash; and interpretation designers, Nissen Richards Studio.

Inspiring People has been made possible by major grants from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, as well as major donations from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Ross Foundation, Mildred and Simon Palley, Julia and Hans Rausing, the Clore Duffield Foundation, the David and Claudia Harding Foundation, Bjorn and Inger Saven, the Law Family Charitable Foundation, David and Molly Lowell Borthwick, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation and Art Fund.

The Gallery’s opening is supported by Reopening Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills, longstanding partner of the National Portrait Gallery.

The final cost for the project is £41.3 million. Approximately two thirds of the total budget has been spent on the building element of the Inspiring People project.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London England
photo © Jim Stephenson

National Portrait Gallery
The was founded in 1856 to encourage the appreciation and understanding of the people who have made and are making British history and culture. Today it promotes engagement with portraiture to a wide-ranging public by conserving, growing and sharing the world’s largest collection of portraits. The Gallery in St Martin’s Place, London is currently closed until 2023, while essential building works take place on the redevelopment project. During the closure period, the Gallery has continued to share its Collection through its digital channels and a series of nationwide partnerships and collaborations.

Jamie Fobert Architects

Since its inception in 1996, Jamie Fobert Architects has established a reputation for innovative and inspiring architectural design.With diverse clients, from individual homeowners to major cultural organisations and international retailers, the practice has demonstrated a consistent design philosophy which resolves client ambitions and site complexities into a tactile architecture of volume, material and light.

A major extension to Tate St Ives, completed in 2017, was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize and lead the gallery to win the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award. In 2019, Jamie Fobert Architects was announced as the BD Architect of the Year Gold Award, in recognition of the practice’s work on public buildings. In 2020, Jamie Fobert was appointed CBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours for Services to Architecture.

Current projects include: a major redevelopment of the Royal Observatory Greenwich; a new Maggie’s Centre for Coventry; an international design concept for quality distillers, The Macallan; and houses in London, Dublin and Galicia.


Purcell is the largest team of heritage experts working in architecture. Our work ranges from award-winning sustainable new buildings, conservation, restoration, retrofit, and adaptive reuse of existing buildings, as well as heritage consultancy. As an AJ100 practice, we have an outstanding portfolio of world-class projects across the UK and Asia Pacific.

Current projects include our role as conservation architect for a major remodelling of the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery with Selldorf Architects. We are leading the £40m restoration and upgrade programme for Manchester Town Hall and are continuing our extensive conservation works to the Palace of Westminster. Recently completed projects include our extension to the chapel at Radley College, awarded RIBA South Building of the Year 2023, a new gallery extension for South Asian art at Manchester Museum and the new Photography Centre at the V&A Museum.

National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London
photo © Olivier Hess

Photography © Olivier Hess and © Jim Stephenson

Jamie Fobert / Purcell

National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London images/information received 260623

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