Big arts projects ring in the millennium
THE BRITISH MUSEUM The grandest and oldest national museum has presented a face that was crowded, confusing, and a bit dumpy for the 6 million visitors it hosts each year. Now, the enormous Greek revival complex's Great Court is being restored. This internal courtyard, which has been blocked up for almost 150 years, will be covered with a glass-and-steel roof and serve as a hub, and after-hours will host concerts and lectures.
Meanwhile, the grand circular Reading Room in the center of the courtyard, one of the most stunning interiors in Britain, is also getting a face lift. It will hold a public reference library as well as access to the museum's new high-tech information system, which will use 3-D images and will also be available on the Internet.
Some projects will continue past 2003, the museum's 250th anniversary, to 2010.
The Tate Gallery
The original Tate Gallery is undergoing a major expansion, which will provide 35 percent more gallery space. It's due for completion in June 2001.
Meanwhile, a former power plant designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also created Britain's congenial red telephone boxes, will be reconstructed as the new Tate Museum of Modern Art. It will have a cafeteria atop the building with stunning views across the water of St. Paul's Cathedral and much of the north side of the London stretch of the Thames. The new Tate is set to open in May 2000.
Royal Opera House
Audiences will finally enjoy performances again this December after 2-1/2 years and $350 million-worth of restoration and expansion. There will be additional seats, more legroom, and air conditioning, but inside the theater will largely look the same. Outside, however, the auditorium will have three times as much public space as before, including the reintroduction of a largely rebuilt Floral Hall. This elaborate glass structure was turned into storage space after being damaged by fire in 1950. Improvements also include a new 420-seat studio theater and in-house ballet studios..
Royal Albert Hall
The $100 million restoration is aimed at completing the job left unfinished when the building opened in 1871. It will fix the adjoining conservatory that held facilities such as bathrooms and was torn down 100 years ago, and also finish some decorative detail that was never completed for lack of money. Among other facilities is a new underground South Porch.
National Portrait Gallery
A new escalator will whisk visitors to the top floor, site of the museum's renowned Tudor Gallery, which has portraits of notable Britons. At present, visitors can get caught up at the museum's entrance, which houses colorful collection of recent portraits. The project adds little display space, but more public space. Other works in progress include a computerized database on the museum's collection and a restaurant on top of the building, all set for completion by next May.
Sadlers Wells Theatre
Incorporating chunks of the structure from the previous theater, the stage has been greatly enlarged so that it can accommodate big international companies. The stage can be modified dramatically to meet the needs of each production, while the auditorium can be accordioned from 1,900 seats back to 1,000.
The Globe Theatre
In the less than three years since the Globe Theatre opened, it has become a major landmark. The original Globe built 400 years ago and so closely associated with Shakespeare, had stood just a few hundred yards away. Plans are afoot to open a permanent exhibition at the Globe next January to replace the one in the adjacent Inigo Jones Theater. The Inigo Jones would then become a year-round theater. The Globe's season runs only during warmer months because, true to the original, it is an open-air theater.
String of Pearls Festival
This is not a capital project. Yet the String of Pearls Festival may well have a long-term impact on London. More than 50 institutions near the Thames will open their doors to the public, many for the first time, in 2000. People will be able to get a special look at a variety of art and architecture, along with musical, dance, and theatrical performances.
For example, Lambeth Palace, home of the archbishop, will be open from April 1 through early November. The Royal Courts of Justice will present plays and other events. A restored Somerset House will open by spring of 2000. And the Embankment Building of Somerset House will feature a new Gilbert Collection of decorative arts.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society