Victoria And Albert Museum

Boilerhouse Yard and Spiral



Architect’s impression of the Spiral at the V&A

Architect’s impression of the Spiral, V&A Enlarge image

Architect’s impression of the Spiral, V&A
Photomontage: Miller Hare
Architect: Daniel Libeskind (b.1946)

Copyright: V&A Images/Miller Hare. Museum number: 2006 AN8207


Watercolour of Henry Cole's design for space between the Science Schools and South Kensington Museum

Suggestions for the space between the Science Schools and South Kensington Museum, 1868 Enlarge image

Suggestions for the space between the Science Schools and South Kensington Museum, 1868

Copyright: V&A Images. Museum number: E.2034-1921


In the 1980s, following a survey of the museum, a site known as the Boilerhouse Yard was identified as a prime area for redevelopment. This underused area had been used to house the boilers, hence the name, and is located between the old Science Schools (now the Henry Cole Wing) and the main body of the museum on Exhibition Road.

Competition to redevelop the Boilerhouse yard

An international competition was held in 1995-6 for a building to occupy this void. It was won by the Polish architect Daniel Libeskind, working with Cecil Balmond of Ove Arup. Libeskind, who had recently found fame with his design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, proposed a radically modern seven-storey glass and tile structure.

Libeskind's project was given the name 'the Spiral' due to its twisting form. The innovative structure, which was to include five floors of galleries, was very much a 21st century design; however, within the V&A's archive is a Victorian precursor.

In 1868 Henry Cole himself produced a sketch of a helter-skelter type building, which he proposed to construct in the same location. The design was drawn up by the Museum Design Office, showing the spiral-like building sandwiched in between the Science Schools and a new duplicate version of the schools to the south as an extension to the Museum.

The outcome of Cole and Libeskind's proposals

Cole's proposal was never acted upon, and very little is known about the specifics of his plan. Libeskind's proposal progressed further, receiving planning permission in 1998. However, following much protest against the very modern structure, in particular from the Kensington Society and also a series of funding issues, the project was not executed.

Although not realised the project was a success in that it provoked debate, raising many interesting issues regarding contemporary architecture and its context. It reinforced the V&A's role in promoting cotemporary design and inspiring artists.

Recent proposals

In 2010 the V&A took up the idea again and launched a competition for designs for a major new gallery and museum entrance for the Boilerhouse Yard site. The brief is for an underground gallery covering around 1500m², with a public courtyard above entered via the Aston Webb screen on Exhibition Road.