Design for the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1900s
Designer: Sir Aston Webb
Artist: Ralph Knott
© RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
The South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) was founded as a centre for education and culture in London. The V&A formed part of a complex known as Albertopolis, which included the Imperial Institute, the Royal Geographical Society, the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Art, the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Together, these institutions supported public education for the masses.
Aston Webb's work on the front façade, completed in 1909, covered the myriad of buildings erected by the V&A by the end of the 19th century. Here, like the London Board schools, height and light are the key design factors. As a prestigious public institution, the ornamental scheme is remarkably rich, with terracotta mouldings, mosaics and sgraffito decoration on the exterior and an elaborate loggia jutting out at the top of the building. The ornament is not mere decoration, it provides an education on the history of art even before the museum is entered.