I have only just caught up with Rowan Moore’s careful analysis of some of the problems and issues surrounding the Sainsbury Wing, whose redevelopment is considerably complicated by the fact that it is a building of such exceptional historical importance, but possibly more admired for its intellectual ingenuity than loved, apart from the wonderful top floor galleries.
My own view is that its entrance was compromised from the beginning by the fact that Bob Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were not allowed to design the furniture and fittings themselves, so the gallery instead commissioned Venturi pastiche; half the entrance was chopped off to make a bookshop of an entirely different character; and over time it accumulated a lot of extra desks which meant that the original design was no longer legible. The passage from darkness into light, a characteristic of a Renaissance church (both Venturi and Scott Brown spent time in Rome in the early 1950s), and the more baroque feature of a grand escalier are, rightly or wrongly, no longer regarded as appropriate ways of approaching the experience of a great museum. So, some level of rethinking and redesign was necessary.
Annabelle Selldorf has sensibly opened the entrance space up to give it more height. She would be condemned if she tried to imitate Venturi and Scott Brown (Scott Brown herself is anti-pastiche) and she may now equally be criticised by Rowan Moore and others for being too polite. It’s a nearly impossible task.