I have been wondering about how to come to terms with the fact that two of Dixon Jones’ more significant projects are being subject to additions and changes by other architects. A first reaction is a frustration that the clients for projects which have been successful have chosen not to come back to us as the original designers. We believe, anyway, that it is the very success of the projects – The Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery – that has led to the need to expand, reinterpret and review their ambitions.
Stanton Williams’ renewal of the Royal Opera House is currently on site
There is perhaps another way of looking at all this. If one takes the example of a city like London, it is in a constant state of gradual change. New uses, new fashions, new sources of money combine to create a continuous process of layering. It is this evidence of success and energy that gives a city its character. So one can see a parallel between the two situations. In both cases, it is possible to regard the new work as legitimately motivated additions to a healthy organism, a process of layering that enriches.
We have been fortunate that both the architects involved – Stanton Williams and Jamie Fobert Architects – are practices that we like and respect. It helps when the newcomer understands and builds on the existing work. One might as well feel confident that the changes will lead to a richer and more interesting outcome, a place of greater value for the public.
A comparison would be Jamie Fobert’s additions to the Tate St Ives. Here his work has given new meaning to an existing layout. What had been a series of galleries not really leading anywhere has become a natural progression from entrance to destination. In the case of the Royal Opera House, the fact that the building occupies a whole urban block in itself suggests that there should be more than one author represented, so there is plenty of room for Stanton Williams’ manner to exist alongside ours. Our work at the NPG was itself a creation of a new ‘layer’ within the historic gallery building. It is not a pure, self-contained architectural object but rather a manipulation of existing spaces to discover new opportunities, a process of enrichment that surely will be continued by the appointment of Jamie Fobert as architect for the new work at the NPG.