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.