UCL Flaxman and Octagon Galleries unveiled

UCL Flaxman and Octagon Galleries unveiled

August 17, 2019 1 By Stanley Isaacs


When the original architect,
William Wilkins, designed this building he designed it with an aperture in the
ceiling of this gallery, so that visitors could see up into the
iconic dome, but also so that light would filter down from above and that was really important
in a time before artificial lighting. In 1847 the family of the famous neo-classical artistj John Flaxman donated a large body of work from the artist’s
studio to UCL. At the same time, UCL’s second architect,
Thomas Donaldson, was busy making modifications and
additions to William Wilkins’s original plan. When the Flaxman Gallery was being created, that oculus was covered over so that the statue of St Michael could have
a fitting place in the centre of the Flaxman Gallery. What this current design does is
unite the best parts of both of those earlier schemes
so that St Michael now stands on a glass plinth
and is very much the centre of the architectural composition of the
Flaxman Gallery, but you’ve got that visibility again,
between the ground floor and the first floor, and
that sense of spaciousness and light, and you’ve got this fabulous new
exhibition space, so we’ve really united the best of UCL’s heritage with really contemporary 21st-century
thought. What we wanted was a space where we could showcase some of UCl’s most wonderful collections, but also somewhere we could
highlight some of our cutting-edge research, so it’s kind
of a dialogue between the past and the present, and a place where visitors really can
get a feel for what UCL thought about in the past
and what we’re thinking today. In 1922, the statue of St Michael overcoming Satan
entered what we might call a nomadic phase. In photographs from 1937 we see the sculpture out on the portico. Leading up to its departure from the
university in 1972, when it went on long-term loan along with other models to the V&A. In 1941 the university in this particular site
experienced severe damage from bombing during the
war. There was damage to the dome and damage to the gallery. The absence of St Michael from the
gallery in fact is what saved the sculpture. St
Michael finally returned in 1994. We wanted to do this because previously
this space was very much a thorough-faire. It was just a space that
people walked through on their way to somewhere else, and now I think it’s somewhere that’s a
real destination, it’s somewhere that people can stop and look and be inspired and we really feel this is going to be a space
that is going to change in reflecting UCL’s current concerns, a space which students are going
to find really stimulating as well, but also that visitors to UCL for the
first time are going to get a real feel for what UCL is about.