The RIBA National Awards are given to buildings across the UK in recognition of their significant contribution to architecture.
The Painted Hall recently reopened following a two‑year National Lottery Funded conservation project which has brought its magnificent painted interior vividly back to life.
Known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’, the Painted Hall is a masterpiece of English baroque art, with a vast decorated interior covering 4,000 square meters. The conservation work was part of a major transformation project by Hugh Broughton Architects, in partnership with the college’s surveyor of the fabric, Martin Ashley Architects, which reversed years of decay in the Painted Hall alongside the restoration of the King William Undercroft beneath the Painted Hall, to house a new café, shop and interpretation gallery.
The Painted Hall is the centrepiece of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the new Royal Hospital for Seaman, it was painted by Sir James Thornhill over the course of 19 years. The paintings celebrate England’s naval power and mercantile prosperity, as well as its newly installed protestant monarchy. Successive monarchs William III and Mary II, Anne and George I join a cast of hundreds of figures, mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary on the ceiling.
William Palin, Painted Hall Project Director and Conservation Director at the Old Royal Naval College, has said:
“We are delighted that the Painted Hall project has now been awarded a RIBA National Award”
“This hugely complex and challenging project required beautiful design solutions as well as meticulous attention to detail. Hugh Broughton Architects, with support from Martin Ashley Architects, approached the challenge with imagination and sensitivity, developing a deep understanding of this unique building and perfectly judging the balance between new design and conservation.
“The transformation of the Undercroft to a light and beautiful visitor area, with gallery, cafe and gift shop, has created a major new cultural destination in the very heart of Greenwich and a gateway to the sublime Painted Hall – allowing hundreds and thousands of local and international visitors to better enjoy and appreciate this spectacular interior.”
The ground-breaking project to clean and conserve the paintings started in 2016 under the supervision of specialist conservators Stephen Paine and Sophie Stewart. For two years, a small team of conservators worked to rejuvenate the paintings, with spectacular results. The colour, clarity and richness of the paintings can now be enjoyed, illuminated by a new state-of-the-art LED system. Meanwhile a range of new technologies have been introduced to stabilise the Hall’s environment and ensure the long term preservation of the paintings. New lighting, heating and ventilation have been incorporated and cleverly concealed with meticulous attention to detail to ensure they blend seamlessly with the historic hall.
To enrich the experience, visitors are offered a new multimedia guide and expert talks and tours throughout the day so they can learn more about the history of the Painted Hall and its meaning. The incredible chance find of the remains of Henry VII’s palace by workmen during the restoration work has been successfully been incorporated into the space, further enriching the visitor experience.