The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, it was founded in 1852, and has since grown to cover 12.5 acres (51,000 m2) and 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, in virtually every medium, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Victorian areas have a complex history, with piecemeal additions by different architects. The first building to be erected that still forms part of the museum was the Sheepshanks Gallery in 1857 on the eastern side of the garden; its architect was civil engineer Captain Francis Fowke, Royal Engineers.
The next major expansions were designed by the same architect, these were the Turner and Vernon galleries built 1858-9 (built to house the eponymous collections, which were later transferred to the Tate Gallery, now used as the picture galleries and tapestry gallery respectively), then the North and South Courts, both of which opened by June 1862. They now form the galleries for temporary exhibitions and are directly behind the Sheepshanks Gallery. On the very northern edge of the site is situated the Secretariat Wing, also built in 1862 this houses the offices and board room etc. and is not open to the public.
The last work by Fowke was the design for the range of buildings on the north and west sides of the garden, this includes the refreshment rooms, reinstated as the Museum Cafe in 2006, with the silver gallery above, (at the time the ceramics gallery), the top floor has a splendid lecture theatre although this is seldom open to the general public. The ceramic staircase in the northwest corner of this range of buildings was designed by F. W. Moody; all the architectural details are produced in moulded and coloured pottery. All the work on the north range was designed and built in 1864-69. The style adopted for this part of the museum was Italian Renaissance, much use was made of terracotta, brick and mosaic, this north facade was intended as the main entrance to the museum with its bronze doors designed by James Gamble & Reuben Townroe having six panels depicting: Humphry Davy (chemistry); Isaac Newton (astronomy); James Watt (mechanics); Bramante (architecture); Michelangelo (sculpture); Titian (painting); thus representing the range of the museums collections.
With the death of Captain Francis Fowke, Royal Engineers the next architect to work at the museum was Colonel (later Major General) Henry Young Darracott Scott, also of the Royal Engineers. He designed to the north west of the garden the five-storey School for Naval Architects (also known as the science schools), now the Henry Cole Wing in 1867-72. Scott's assistant J. H. Wild designed the impressive staircase that rises the full height of the building, made from Cadeby stone the steps are 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, the balustrades and columns are Portland stone. It is now used to jointly house the prints and architectural drawings of the V&A (prints, drawings, paintings and photographs) and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA Drawings and Archives Collections); and the Sackler Centre for arts education which openned in 2008.
The main facade, built from red brick and Portland stone, stretches 720 feet (220 m) along Cromwell Gardens and was designed by Aston Webb after winning a competition in 1891 to extend the museum. Construction took place between 1899 to 1909.
There was controversy surrounded the museum's proposed building of an PS80 million extension called The Spiral, designed by Daniel Libeskind, which was criticised as out of keeping with the architecture of the original buildings. The Spiral's design was described by some as looking like jumbled cardboard boxes. In September 2004, the museum's board of trustees voted to abandon the design after failing to receive funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.