After three years of redevelopment and a meticulous redisplay of over 1000 artworks, the new National Portrait Gallery, aptly named ‘Inspiring People,’ opened to superb reviews from press and public in June 2023. Studio ZNA worked alongside long-time collaborators architects and interpretation designers Nissen Richards Studio to deliver the best lighting design throughout these Grade 1 listed galleries. We designed, specified, programmed and focussed all the lighting within the gallery spaces at high level and at low level in bespoke showcases and setworks.

The most remarkable aspect of this project was the ambition to mix traditional oil paintings with light-sensitive works on paper, including an extensive collection of photography from 1840 to present day and sculptures historical and contemporary. We carefully designed a choreography of luminance ensuring each work and medium would shine and retain focus even when displayed at low light levels to limit exposure.

The new entrance way is bright and expansive with a display of busts, historical and contemporary of inspiring people highlighted with strong accent light.

The visitor journey starts on the second floor Tudor Galleries on an intimate scale where amongst the dark finishes the works are lit to glow and evoke richness and power to complement the content. The rooms open up into 17th -19th centuries grand roof lit galleries. Working with M&E designers Max Fordham to define acceptable daylight levels for the works we maximise the use of daylight within the galleries using roof louvres to control sunlight penetration. The full colour spectrum of daylight combined with the highest quality spotlights renders these works to their best effect.

On the first floor the previously blocked windows have been revealed and after a series of onsite testing we specified a combination of light stopping films and light reducing scrim blinds to deliver a soft diffused daylight into the space while allowing views out into central London. The dialogue of the works and their location brought a vibrancy and we were able to achieve conservation levels for even the most light sensitive daguerreotypes collection. The lighting modulates the journey from close view sensitive displays to dramatic sweeping vistas punctuated throughout with lit accented sculptural works. New Galleries on first and ground floor see a more contemporary gallery approach with washes of light connecting the eclectic works. The most sensitive works are protected within various typologies of bespoke showcases. We prototyped each typology to ensure appropriate light sources were concealed and the best colour rendering product specified for rendering each object. With the designers we designed back lit labels to allow accessibility for close viewing to all visitors without casting shadows.

In the Temporary Exhibition Galleries we specified and commissioned a Bluetooth, app controlled lighting system to offer flexibility to the gallery team and meet the demands of changing displays in their busy exhibitions programme. We then designed the exhibition specific lighting for the first two opening shows Yevonde: Life and Colour Exhibition and Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm.

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