The Queen's House in Greenwich has been an architectural icon since its first eye-catching appearance more than 360 years ago. Now it has reopened, with a new emphasis on education.
The house's architectural claim to fame is as the first classical building in England, designed by Inigo Jones as an artistic status symbol, showing that the image-conscious Stuart dynasty could compete in the fashion stakes with the rival royal courts of Europe.
The building, part of the National Maritime Museum and standing beside the historic buildings of the former Royal Naval College on the Thames, has been renovated for a new role as an art gallery and education centre. It's the latest addition to the complex of museums in Greenwich, now designated a Unesco world heritage site. So what can visitors expect? And how will the intricacies of architectural history be made accessible to day trippers and school parties?
"The building helps us to put architecture into human terms. It's a way into discussing buildings and art, making it something you can walk around and talk about unpretentiously," says education officer Stuart Slade.
To help bring the house to life, actor-interpreters will take on the roles of those who lived and worked here, such as a housekeeper, a portrait painter or a naval pensioner.
As the house now serves as an art gallery, Stuart Slade suggests that another approach is to think of it as a big, formal portrait. From the self-conscious symmetry of the great hall - it's an exact cube - to the way that light is used, the Queen's House is a very painterly construction, intended to make a statement about its owner in its departure from the cosy vernacular of Tudor red-brick in favour of something light, bright and modern European. When you look at the Queen's House, with its mathematical formalities, marble floor and staircases suspended in the air, you can see an embryonic version of the big blockbuster classical stately homes of the 18th century. The surprise is that it was built between 1616 and 1638.
Helping visitors to make sense of the concept of portraits is another theme of the education work at the Queen's House. As part of the events for schools, a Looking at Portraits programme, available for age groups from five to 14, will seek to show children how to "read" a portrait and to understand the symbolism used by painters.
The Queen's House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF. Tel: 020 8312 6565. Website: www.nmm.ac.uk . Open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday. Entry free to children in full-time education and adults with five or more children. Parties of 10 or more are advised to pre-book on 020 8312 6608 A longer version of this feature appears in this week's Friday magazine
A longer version of this feature appears in this week's Friday magazine