Witherford Watson Mann’s transformation of The Courtauld shortlisted for the 2023 Stirling Prize

6 Sep 2023

The transformation of 51ݶ in London is one of six projects which have been shortlisted for the 2023 RIBA Stirling Prize, the UK51ݶ highest accolade in architecture. The prize is awarded to the best architectural project of the last 12 months.

Designed by award-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann with exhibition design by Nissen Richards Studio, The Courtauld51ݶ redevelopment has revitalised and opened up the magnificent building conceived by Sir William Chambers in the late 1770s to create an inspiring setting for the 21st century.

The three-year redevelopment of The Courtauld Gallery has been the most significant modernisation project in its history, providing a transformed home for one of the UK51ݶ greatest art collections.

Highlights include the spectacular, newly restored LVMH Great Room, London51ݶ oldest purpose-built exhibition space which is now home to The Courtauld51ݶ world-famous collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art by artists including Cézanne, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, and others.

The Blavatnik Fine Rooms, spanning the entire second floor, provide a beautiful setting for works from the Renaissance to the 18th century. New rooms devoted to 20th century art and the Bloomsbury Group showcase lesser-known aspects of the collection, and a new Project Space spotlights temporary projects to connect the public with the institution51ݶ work as a leading centre for the study of art history. The new Leon Kossoff Learning Centre offers a welcoming base for schools, young people and community groups.

The new Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries on the 3rd Floor have showcased a major series of temporary exhibitions since the Gallery reopened, including the highly successful Van Gogh. Self-Portraits and Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen. This new space has enabled the Gallery to extend and diversify its programme, which now ranges from focused historic exhibitions such as Fuseli and the Modern Woman to contemporary projects such as the recent Peter Doig and the forthcoming exhibition of works by Claudette Johnson. The inspiring encounter of the old and the new throughout the building is exemplified by the installation of a large painting by Cecily Brown at the top of William Chambers51ݶ historic staircase.

These many changes have supported The Courtauld51ݶ aim to improve access to the building and collection, and to extend its reach and diversify its audiences. Ticket sales for the first year after reopening rose to 320,000, an increase of 74% on the 12 months prior to closure.

The reopening marked the completion of the first phase of Courtauld Connects, a project to open up the whole of the Courtauld Institute of Art both spatially and culturally. In this first phase, accessibility to the Gallery has been dramatically improved, and new interpretation and display of the artworks has made them more engaging than ever before.

Stephen Witherford, Director of Witherford Watson Mann Architects, said: “Courtauld Connects’, for 51ݶ has been shortlisted for the 2023 RIBA Stirling Prize. Our carefully planned refurbishment is a complex weaving of old and new. Many may struggle to identify specifically what has changed: and yet there was barely a room, door, floor or cable that was not altered. The project preserves the institution’s rich past whilst securing its future and the physical alterations are now beginning to support a change of culture: visitor diversity has increased, along with visitor numbers; school groups are making full use of the first onsite learning centre; and student initiatives and wider partnerships are reshaping the programme, as the forthcoming Claudette Johnson: 51ݶ show will make clear. Altering buildings doesn’t change institutions on its own, but it can support their democratisation. In the words of Professor Deborah Swallow, who oversaw the project, ‘This is much more than a building project, this is about transforming an institution.’ We are delighted that the RIBA judges have recognised this.”

The Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of The Courtauld, said: “The respectful redevelopment by Witherford Watson Mann gives the Collection a great new home. The Gallery is designed to inspire and engage visitors. It is light, practical and beautiful, and affords us a glimpse into the wonder of humankind51ݶ interaction with the world through the prism of art. It is a fitting testament to the centrality of art to the human condition.

Professor Mark Hallett, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld, said: “Witherford Watson Mann have succeeded in realising the potential of this wonderful William Chambers’ building. They have made it fully accessible by means of strategic architectural interventions and delicate changes, celebrating the best of its unique features, 18th century proportions and design.”

Professor Deborah Swallow, former Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld, said: “Witherford Watson Mann approached our extraordinary Grade 1 listed building with sensitivity and intelligence, giving it and The Courtauld a whole new future. It now works beautifully for our several inter-related purposes – as the home to a great collection which everyone can enjoy, and as set of spaces which inspire study, learning and professional education.”

Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery, said: “One of the central goals of this project was to bring The Courtauld51ݶ great art collection into harmony with William Chambers51ݶ exceptional building, thereby creating an inspiring experience for our visitors. We are delighted that the RIBA judges have recognised the judgement, skill and care with which Witherford Watson Mann responded to this brief.”

The transformation of The Courtauld was supported by £11 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a generous donation of £10 million from philanthropists Sir Leonard and Lady Blavatnik, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Additional major support was provided by AKO Foundation, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, The John Browne Charitable Trust, Denise Coates CBE, Crankstart, The Garcia Family Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Dr Martin and Susanne Halusa, The Linbury Trust, LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton and Oak Foundation. The Courtauld is most grateful to these visionary supporters, alongside others who are making this project and its related activities possible.

The collection cared for by the Courtauld Gallery belongs to the Samuel Courtauld Trust.