Judgement in Reverse: the New Design for the Sainsbury Wing Entrance of the National Gallery, London

The Sainsbury Wing redesign. Photograph: Selldorf Architects

A new design by has been revealed for the Sainsbury Wing entrance of the National Gallery in London. It is by New York architect, Annabelle Selldorf, whom I had never previously heard of, but that is a reflection on me rather than her, because I have never heard of most architects.

I have, though, developed an antipathy to them, and, if anything would align myself more with the tastes of my namesake now on the throne of the United Kingdom, than the average or even above average architectural office.

A short walk through the centre of London or even its outskirts or indeed most built up places on the globe induces in me an appalled reaction at the impersonal, bland, glass and concrete overblown manifestations of self-consumed egos with apparently no feeling for human beings, only for some horrendous fusion of Moloch and 1984.

I was therefore prepared for Selldorf to do her worst and was amazed at my pleasure seeing her design. I don’t know the intricacies and shenanigans that resulted in the current layout of the Sainsbury entrance, after the first proposal was scrapped in the wake of then-Prince of Wales’s condemnation of it as a “monstrous carbuncle” (it sounds even better now it can be attributed to him as Charles III).

However, I have always found the layout that was finally constructed to be depressingly gloomy with ill-related spaces and a staircase that seems remarkably out of place, the impersonal ascent of which for some peculiar personal idiosyncrasy reminds me  of Charles I ascending the scaffold for his execution. (Perhaps it’s the name association that does it.)

Selldorf’s design has been met with overwhelming objection from every organisation you can think of, including English Heritage, Historic Buildings and Places, and the Twentieth Century Society, not to mention such condemnations as “an act of vandalism” by Sean Griffiths, Professor of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster.

It seems to be in the art word that if you want to evaluate something, you should take what the critics say and reverse it. This works very well here. The current dull grey tomb that passes for the Sainsbury Wing entrance is the act of vandalism.

Selldorf’s design opens up a wonderfully light and airy space, uplifting in its expansiveness and freedom, making even those endless, wide steps to the next floor seem justified.

However, in a cultural world prophesied by George Orwell where the Ministry of Peace makes war, the cultural leaders yet again march round in lockstep like headless chickens (or headless monarchs even).