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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 13:04 GMT
National Gallery's 21m 'facelift'
A virtual view of the proposed east wing atrium at the National Gallery
A light-filled atrium is at the heart of the project

A 21m scheme to radically improve public access to some of Britain's finest art treasures has been unveiled at the National Gallery in London.

The work will complement a separate project already under way outside the building to pedestrianise the northern part of Trafalgar Square.

The costs are being met in part by a 10m gift from the philanthropist Getty family's charitable foundation and a 4.5m bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Gallery officials and architects believe the refurbishments will turn the area into the capital's cultural focal point.

The National is permanent home to masterpieces by artists such as Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez, as well as the impressionists and post-impressionists.

A virtual impression of the redesigned Trafalgar Square
How architects see the new-lookTrafalgar Square
Launching the scheme, Jon Snow, the Channel 4 news presenter and a gallery trustee, said: "It is an unbelievably exciting vision."

It represents the first phase of a 100m "masterplan" at the home of the country's greatest permanent collection of Western European paintings.

The gallery's east wing will be opened up via a door at street level, leading visitors into a light-filled atrium housed in a previously unused inner courtyard.

The aim is to give people more time and space to familiarise themselves with their surroundings before they embark on the gallery's collection of old masters.

A virtual picture of a future Trafalgar Square from the air
This is how one of London's landmarks will soon look
Until now visitors have had to negotiate a large staircase and a crowded reception area inside the main entrance.

The lobby was designed in the 1830s to accommodate only a fraction of the four million people the National now attracts every year.

A cafe, shop and multi-media centre will be built to further improve facilities as part of the first phase of building work.

Linking the gallery to the newly-pedestrianised square will be a sweeping staircase designed by leading architect Lord Foster.

'Grand'

Gallery officials believe that together, the projects will transform Trafalgar Square into one of Europe's great civic spaces.

Snow, surveying the artists' impressions, said: "It could be Berlin or Venice, but it isn't. It's London. And it's made in Britain."

Gallery director Charles Saumarez Smith said: "Once you have a sense of this great, grand, open civic space, many more people will be milling around in Trafalgar Square who will want to come into the gallery."

Work is expected to begin in spring 2003 and last almost two years.


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02 Sep 02 | England
20 Mar 02 | Entertainment
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