Competition to complete the museum

John Belcher's competition design for the completion of South Kensington Museum

Competition design for the completion of the South Kensington Museum, 1891
Pen and wash
Artist: William Bingham McGuinness (fl.1882-c.1929)
Architect: John Belcher (1841-1913)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections

Sir Aston Webb’s design for the completion of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Detail of the design for the completion of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1899
Artist: Thomas Raffles Davison (1853-c.1937)
Architect: Aston Webb (1849-1930)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections


In 1890 the Treasury and the Office of Works gave in to pleas for more space for the museum and agreed to an architectural competition for a new building. The competition to complete the museum was launched in 1891 with Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the Natural History Museum, as one of the judges.

John Belcher

The scheme proposed by the architect John Belcher proved very popular amongst the profession, and was published and exhibited. Although described by Waterhouse as the most original entry, Belcher was placed runner up. It was perhaps decided that his vast Classical structure, with Wren-like domes, would have been too costly to build.

Belcher's interior design was equally as powerful, with grand, vast interiors in the Baroque style. His entry was no doubt helped by the atmospheric perspectives produced by McGuinness. It was normal practice for architects to use artists or perspectivists to produce presentation drawings, in particular to win competitions.

Aston Webb

The winner, Aston Webb, used his favourite perspectivist, Raffles Davison to present his idea. His winning design was in a style he described as 'Free Renaissance', with a very high central tower. By the time construction began Webb had largely redesigned his scheme. This perspective dates 1899, some eight years after winning the competition, however it too differs from that built.

The tall central tower is replaced by a squatter structure, topped by a smaller dome, which in turn was replaced during construction by an open lantern. After the announcement of the winner of the competition in 1891, the project was beset by administration and budgetary problems, resulting in the building not being completed until 1909.






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