Royal Academy of Arts masterplan

David Chipperfield Architects as Architects

Founded in 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is the oldest arts institution in Britain. Since 1868 it has been based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, in central London. In 1998 the RA acquired 6 Burlington Gardens, an Italianate building of comparable size located immediately to the north of Burlington House and oriented in the opposite direction. Originally designed in the 1860s as the Senate House for the University of London, 6 Burlington Gardens had been modified over the years.

photo_credit Simon Menges
Simon Menges

The masterplan involved connecting the Burlington House and Burlington Gardens sites in both physical and ideological terms. A new programme had to be developed for 6 Burlington Gardens and coherence given to the entire complex. Promoting the refurbishment of the two Grade II* listed buildings, the masterplan drew on the existing building structures, opening previously closed off areas while introducing a series of punctual interventions that range from repair and restoration to the introduction of contemporary elements.

photo_credit Simon Menges
Simon Menges

A new route through the centre of the buildings provides a public link between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens, connecting the main entrances of both buildings. This route leads from a brick-vaulted corridor, previously used for storage, through to a new in-situ concrete bridge, while bisecting the RA Schools. The bridge, housing a lift and staircase, negotiates the change of level and the differing axis of both buildings. It also overlooks a new sculpture garden for the RA Schools both exposing and integrating their activity into the campus.

photo_credit James Newton
James Newton


“In developing a masterplan for the RA, we proposed a series of small architectural interventions that have a large impact on the provision of facilities and programmatic ambitions. By revealing more fully all that the RA encompasses – in particular the Schools, the Collection and the work of Academicians across all disciplines – we hope that further visitors, voices and ideas will be drawn to this living institution. On an urban level too, the creation of a new entrance and connection between Burlington Gardens and Burlington House unlocks a part of the city and integrates the RA with the culture of daily life.”

- Sir David Chipperfield

photo_credit Simon Menges
Simon Menges

The transformation of 6 Burlington Gardens includes the reinstatement of a lecture theatre at the east end of the building. This required the removal of a floor that had been added and the relocation of the British Academy room. The new auditorium, seating 250, is semi-circular and modelled on a classical amphitheatre or scientific theatre. It is entered from the top and the large clerestory windows have been fully reinstated. The former Senate Room has been restored and serves as a new cafeteria with one of the smaller committee rooms now an architecture gallery. The historic laboratory rooms have been re-aligned as an enfilade of contemporary, day-lit gallery spaces. The large room on the west side of the building, originally a library, now serves as the Collections gallery housing Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo. The aforementioned British Academy room is now enclosed in a new fair-faced concrete building which faces the sculpture garden and features the original windows.

photo_credit Simon Menges
Simon Menges

Small interventions have been made in Burlington House, improving the operational running of both buildings. These range from art handling to new cloakrooms, toilets and ticket offices.

photo_credit Lewis Khan
Lewis Khan

The completion of the project coincided with the Royal Academy’s 250th anniversary, significantly expanding its space and range of activities, while connecting Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens on an urban level, with a cultural programme.


New lighting system

iGuzzini as Lighting manufacturer

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 by King George III to promote the art of drawing through education and exhibitions. Based in Burlington House, in the heart of the English capital, the illustrious Academy continues to be one of the world’s leading centres for visual arts.

In 2016, in order to improve the performance and efficiency of the existing lighting system, the Academy commissioned engineering firm ARUP to design a redevelopment project that would save energy and ensure installation flexibility, while also minimising maintenance.

The new lighting system was unveiled on 23rd September 2017 for the Jasper Johns exhibition, “Something Resembling Truth”. This was the first anthology dedicated to the US artist in the last 40 years, featuring over 150 works including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints from throughout the artist’s life. The project involved the installation of 1500 iGuzzini Palco LED projectors (ø 122 mm and ø 142 mm) featuring the patented OptiBeam Lens technology, which produces a uniform, well-defined light beam, devoid of chromatic aberrations.

The wide range of accessories available in the Palco product family offers great versatility through a variety of flexible solutions and accents; this ensures that specific lighting effects can be created for each artwork or art display. The fact that the individual Palco components can be replaced (e.g. adapter, driver, accessories, Bluetooth module and LED chips), also facilitates maintenance and allows regularly updating the luminaires with the latest technology; this makes the system fully ‘future-proofed’. Palco luminaires fitted with Flood optics and elliptical lenses provide general and accent lighting in the main exhibition areas. 

They are also used for large-scale paintings, owing to their ability to illuminate surfaces evenly. Palco luminaires with 10° Spot and 5° SuperSpot optics provide accent lighting to small and medium-sizepaintings, as they illuminate the individual exhibits with uniform, well-defined cone-shaped beams of light. In particular, the 10° Palco Spot Optic projectors use Opti Beam reflectors and accessories (a special internal spill ring and a Soft lens filter) specifically designed for the Royal Academy to ensure full compliance with the customer’s brief.

The luminaires chosen have a colour temperature of 2700 K – so that they can blend in with the halogen lamps still present in certain areas of Burlington House – as well as a high colour rendering index (CRI 97), even for critical colours such as red (R9>90). The installation enhances the chromatic nuances of the works on display, improving the conservation conditions by keeping UV and IR emissions to an absolute minimum. The LED chips used are within a 2-stepMacAdam ellipse, which guarantees long-term colour uniformity across the lighting installation. 

Moreover, the luminaires were especially painted to blend in with the colours of the exhibition halls and to create a sense of aesthetic consistency. They were also installed on pre-existing tracks, using adapters, in order to allow frequent scene changes. 

The use of special drivers featuring a dimming capability ranging from 100% to 0.1% coupled with the Casambi Bluetooth interface, which can be regulated via a simple app, emphasise the versatility of the lighting scheme. Last but not least, the system also features iBeacon technology, which could be activated communicate with visitors’ mobile devices within the beacon range, to convey information relating to relevant art pieces. ( Images are related to  “Charles I: King and Collector, 27.1 -15.4.2018 exhibition).

Project Credits
Lighting manufacturer
Services engineer
Theatre and acoustic consultant
Project manager
Product Spec Sheet

ElementBrandProduct name
Lighting manufactureriGuzzini
Product Spec Sheet
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