First Pix of the NMM’s Sammy Ofer Wing

Following on from the questions about the exterior of the new Sammy Ofer Wing at the National Maritime Museum yesterday, Jenny’s sent me over some images of the building itself.

Of course it’s been half-seeable all the time, viewed through, appropriately enough, portholes in the hoardings, but we’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see just how hideous and inappropriate it’s going to be.

Actually, I don’t know about you guys but I’ve been rather pleasantly surprised. For once the architect’s drawings made a new construction look worse than it really is.  In fact, embarrassing as it is to admit, I can’t help rather liking this wing – it’s sleek and elegant and although it is in a different style to the rest of the museum, that doesn’t bother me. We’re in the 21st Century now and I think it works.

I went to look at it in that tiny window of time between the hoardings being replaced by fencing and the park being closed off for the test events and I find myself quite excited.

In some respects the shape of the main extension building reminds me a little of the tellytubby Sainsburys over on the Peninsuala, though that’s probably the gentle curve and the greenery around it. I shall be interested to see how the little rows of trees behind it fare, though presumably the ground staff are better at watering than I am. I like what I assume will be the modern haha at the main entrance.

In fact the only bit that looks a bit odd are the two glass shafts sticking out of the main extension (they’re the square boxes in the top picture). I had assumed they were lifts but Jenny tells me they’re actually light wells going deep underground to the special exhibition gallery – and, well,  everyone knows how interested I am in anything underground.

Which brings us to the thorny question of what’s actually going inside this aforesaid pretty damn nice space.  As regular readers of this blog will know I am not a fan of the present museum trend of highlighting just a few ‘special’ objects that ‘tell a story’ and leave acres of empty space all over the place when I know they’ve got incredible objects mouldering away in their stores.

More and more museums are succumbing to this dumbing-down (in fact the only museum I know of that still truly clings to the ‘old’ style of delightfully dusty cases stuffed full of objects, the provenance, date and purpose of which remain an intriguing mystery, is the wonderful Petrie Museum, though the Cuming Museum in Southwark makes a venerable fist at pleasing my passion for fascinating clutter – I could (and do) spend hours in there.) The NMM was one of the first in the move towards emptiness, and I am at best ambivalent about their current displays.

I know I am in a minority here, of course. I seem to have got myself into a late-Victorian timewarp, fantasising about H.G.Wells turning up in his Time Machine and whisking me off to view Messers Pitt-Rivers and Petrie’s private collections rather than admitting that the world has moved on, and like the 21st Century building I’ve just praised to its rooftops, museum displays have also changed.

But when I read that the new Voyagers Gallery will house ‘over 200 objects from across the museum’s collections’ I can’t help twitching just a bit.  That may sound a lot, but when you consider the thousands of things they have, I fear two hundred may be rattling around a bit, albeit in the most elegant fashion imaginable.  I also fear that having a ‘greatest hits’ gallery close to the main entrance (and the park and the gift shop) will discourage people from stepping in further; from visiting the galleries where you might have to think a bit.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until July to find out. The one thing that has truly excited me from the start about this project though, is the new archive space, library and reading room, and that sounds  impressive indeed.

They’ll be able to keep more stuff on site, so it will be easier for readers to access. There will be specific reading areas – some quiet, some for group work.  Longer opening hours, including one late-night and…squeeeee! A giant table specially for looking at massive maps. Fantastic.

I was wrong about the way the museum looks. Hands up, I admit it, I’m blushing. I’d like to be able to blush about what the building contains too. But for that I’ll have to wait until July.


13 Comments to “First Pix of the NMM’s Sammy Ofer Wing”

  1. annabel says:

    wow it really does look quite spectacular and what a lovely addition to the museum. I’m really interested to see how you access this part and how they incorporate the beautiful statue with the garden they are planting at present. I loved taking my son to the pirate ship before, it was nicely tucked away so was a bit of a hidden secret. I’m hoping we might have something similar.

  2. scared of chives says:

    looks great

  3. OldChina says:

    Sounds exciting! Especially the giant map table, although that sort of thing makes me want to start planning invasions. I mentally place my tanks all over the Dicover Greenwich’s map table.

    Myself, I quite like the big, bright “airy museum” feel, although that said Oxford’s dark, spooky and deeply Victorian Pitt-Rivers museum remains a favourite.

    Anyway, thumbs up, me likey. Also, is that a spectral phantom reflected in the window in the second pic?

  4. Yes – Jenny and I are one and the same ;-)

  5. OldChina says:

    Oh yes, just re-read the post: Jenny took the piccies. The Phantom remains an enigma!

  6. Benedict says:

    I think it all looks fantastic! I love the Light Well/ Glass boxes, they dont interfere with the original building and look modestly elegant in their own right. I cant believe the Phantom was such a Nay-sayer……ahem…..Jenny’s pics are fab BTW well done! (Do you work there Jenny? or did you get special permission to photograph it?)

  7. EnglishRose says:

    On the subject of old-style museums, have you ever popped into the Sir John Soane museum in Bloomsbury? If not, you’re in for a treat. Just don’t go getting any ideas about installing an Egyptian sarcophagus in the Phantom basement….. ;)

  8. What makes you think there isn’t already an Egyptian sarcophagus in the Phantom Basement? You’re right, of course, Sir John Soanes is fabulous.

  9. And Benedict – you know me – I’m a dreadful naysayer. Except when it comes to the NIMBY festival when I was a dreadful Yay-sayer. So clearly I’m always wrong.

  10. Robert Number 16 says:

    Dear Phantom.
    My late father was a well known Egyptologist,and in the 60`s and early 70`s he travelled the world x raying the ancient pharoahs to find out cause of death.I as a child had an Egyptian mummy stored under my bed.I called him Charlie. I forget where I sent “Charlie” after my fathers death.I do how ever still have a mummy cat which I think is poss the oldest cat in Greenwich.( over 2000 years old) If you like old style museums try the Haslemere museum in Surrey.

  11. Ebspig says:

    Oh for the cherished old-style museum with the copperplate sepia inked label, curling to illegibity. There used to be a classic one (with obligatory stuffed rhinoceros) in East Anglia, but probably now interactivised. The up-coming Steampunk exhibition might appeal to fans of the older style.

  12. PiratesPatch says:

    Do the Greenwich Hospital pirates have enough gold in reserve to buy the Ark Royal from the Government….

    Not sure if it would fit in the new wing at the NMM, but it could sit on the grass ouside and make a nice cafe and place to hand some Maritime artwork!

    Not sure on the Ark’s price…but l have just pressed Add to Cart on it’s website, so can the NMM and the Hospital please call me soon with the down payment!