The Clothworkers’ Centre
The new Clothworkers’ Centre designed for the Victoria & Albert Museum is located at Blythe House, a grade II listed building originally designed by Sir Henry Tanner in 1890.
The project provides dedicated storage, study areas and conservation facilities for the V&A’s internationally significant collection of over 100,000 Textile and Fashion objects, as well as a new public accessible entrance to Blythe House. The Centre aims to become a world-renowned resource for the study and preservation of historical and contemporary dress and textiles, providing supervised access to the collections to members of the public. Maximising use of the existing building’s high ceilings and uninterrupted floor plans, the new custom-built compressed storage system accommodates objects ranging from small archaeological textile fragments to religious robes, historic garments and items by leading contemporary designers. The complexity of the storage requirements – which includes 1,280 rolled textiles; 500 linear metres of hanging garments; and 7,000 drawers in six different sizes and curatorial categories - generated significant structural and logistical challenges for the project team, which were managed successfully through a multi-phased programme of decant, construction and storage installation works.
The architectural brief was to create an enhanced ‘behind the scenes’ experience of the working collection for researchers, students and enthusiasts. Embedded within the largest store, the new public study room offers a relaxed and peaceful environment for visitors to view even the largest textiles first hand, with staff and reference books available for consultation.
The study room is characterised by the generous proportions, large windows and glazed bricks of the existing building, and is given definition by full-height glazed screens and bespoke joinery. New interventions are carefully designed to complement and reinforce the character of the existing building, using a limited palette of materials including patinated steel, black-stained ash and timber cabinetry reclaimed from the former South Kensington stores. A gold metal lighting and power rig further defines the working area of the study room and provides a material accent that is echoed throughout the project. An adjoining seminar room is used for groups and classes accommodating up to 18 people.
The new and refurbished conservation studios provide state of the art, on-site facilities for textile and furniture Conservation. New glazed screens enable visitors to see into the studios and watch work in progress, including object restoration and preparation for gallery display, loans and for the regularly changing headline exhibitions aimed to travel to multiple venues worldwide.
The new accessible entrance re-instates the formal entrance from Blythe Road, leading to a new public reception area for visitors to the V&A stores and archives. The reception is lined by bespoke display cabinets, housing Eduardo Paolozzi’s collection of twentieth century toys.
The Clothworkers’ Centre has generated renewed interest in Blythe House as a key public resource, and it is anticipated that the project will become a generator for further works throughout the building.