The timing of the new exhibition ‘Albertopolis’ could not be more apt – its opening tomorrow coincides with the near-completion of the Exhibition Road redevelopment. The plan by architect Dixon Jones has redesigned this north-south corridor, formerly lined with narrow pavements and dominated by traffic, into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard connecting South Kensington Underground station to the gates of Hyde Park. From the air this street and Cromwell Road form the neatly arranged cardo and decumanus of modern South Kensington, but their origins are Victorian and the result of the ambition of Prince Albert to turn the fields of South Kensington into a new cultural quarter for London. It is this vision which will be explored in Albertopolis.
The position of Exhibition Road bears no relation to the boundaries of the farms and estates that once stood there. Acting on the advice from the prince, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 used the profit from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to purchase 86 acres of land between Kensington Road and Old Brompton Road in 1853 (1). The purchase was accompanied by a plan for a grid of straight roads: Exhibition Road, Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate. More changes followed with the establishment of museums and cultural institutions as envisioned by Prince Albert, many of which are still there today and these include: the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College, Royal College of Art, Royal Albert Hall and the home of the new exhibition itself, the Victoria and Albert Museum which was once known as South Kensington Museum (2).
The recent transformation of Exhibition Road is just one of many projects in the area that have continued to shape the evolution of South Kensington into a world centre for learning. Drawing upon the material held in the collections of the RIBA and V&A, the new display from the V&A + RIBA Architecture Partnership will tell the story of the development of the area from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the present day. Admission is free and the exhibition will be open from 26 November 2011 until 29 April 2012 in Room 128a, V&A + RIBA Architecture Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
- The Thurloe Estate, South Kensington: an account of its origin and development. Stroud, D. (London: Country Life) 1959, p.18
- Albertopolis online exhibition, RIBA, www.architecture.com, accessed 25 November 2011