DT: What, in essence, are you looking for from the teams in the initial stage, because I think it's ideas and approaches rather than anything designed and drawn?
GF: That's very important. This isn't a tender for a design; it is a tender for an architect or an architect-led design team, so they will come in and they will work with us on creating the best possible welcome for the visiting public. It's about existing spaces, but it's about the public realm around the entrance of the Sainsbury Wing - that's the corner of Trafalgar Square and also Jubilee walk – and we want them to work very closely with us to define what the right design for us is. They need to be very sensitive to the gallery's needs - we are in a very prominent position here, working with two buildings which are very established. The Sainsbury Wing is a modern classic; it's a building that we have great love for. The Wilkins building is also a classic – they are both Grade I listed. So: what is the most sensitive intervention which creates the best possible welcome for the public?
DT: The Sainsbury Wing, in architectural circles or folklore and in terms of the competition arena has been associated with Prince Charles and ABK and the carbuncle speech. I presume you're hopeful that none of that residue remains?
GF: We are very exposed here on Trafalgar Square, so I think we need to be very sensitive to that. There is history, you’re right, to the site, and the building that emerged from the controversy is a building that took into account a lot of sensitivities, while at the same time I think making a really significant urban contribution. It's a building that has real quality to it. I think there's some beautiful work on the façade; it's very thoughtful. It helps to set the building in its environment. I think the galleries are among the most beautiful in the world. But I think there is room for improvement, particularly on the ground floor and in the way we welcome. And remember, it is 30 years on from 1991 when we opened. Things are different. We have many, many more visitors - or pre Covid - numbers were more than twice the numbers that the Sainsbury Wing was built for. And also, I think there are security concerns around how you deal with that sort of number of people coming into a public building. Covid, too, will have an influence on how people relate to built spaces. And I think now is a good moment to rethink that.
DT: Are you phoning from there at the moment? Are you there?
GF: I am in my office in Traflagar Square, yes
DT: What's it like? Is it eery?
GF: I'm just looking out - it's very quiet; there are very few people around. There are lots of buses which are empty. And there’s almost nowhere you can go to buy a sandwich….
DT: And do you get to sort of wander forlornly around the galleries? That’s my picture of you!