- Cost Consultancy: Appleyard & Trew
- Fire Engineering: Fedra
- Façade Consultant: Arup Façade Engineering
- Acoustician: Hahn Tucker
- Dda Consultant: Lisa Foster & Associates
- CDM: AA Projects
- Approved Inspector: HCD Building Control
- Assessment Of The Heritage Asset: The Architectural History Practice
- Client: The Whitworth
- Budget: £15 million
- City: Manchester
- Country: United Kingdom
Text description provided by the architects. The Whitworth is a public art gallery founded in 1889, as the first English gallery in a park. It became part of the University of Manchester in 1958. The Gallery is situated in the north east corner of Whitworth Park on the edge of the University campus in the Moss Side Ward, close to the local communities of Moss Side and Rusholme. The gallery fronts Oxford Road, opposite Manchester Royal Infirmary, and to the North is skirted by Denmark Road - a mixed use street, including some residential units.
The Whitworth is an amalgamation of a number of separate stages of development that have been undertaken over the past 126 years. Beaumont, the original architect, undertook five projects over an 18 year period to transform a private residence, Grove House, into a public art gallery. The final project that he oversaw was the completion of the main frontage building in 1908. During the 1960’s, John Bickerdike and Partners substantially remodelled the interior of the building creating modern, contemporary gallery spaces within the Beaumont building. In 1995 ABK (Ahrends, Burton and Koralek) created a Sculpture Court at Mezzanine level within the centre of the plan. The combination of late Victorian/Edwardian envelope and 1960s modern interior was Grade II listed in 1974, with the Bickerdike interior being of particular note.
Externally, the 1908 frontage facing Oxford Road to the east and earlier elements to the north and south elevations, were well resolved. However, the west end of the building facing the park, was of lesser quality and presented an unresolved, blind mass to the park. As a consequence, this area felt neglected and often suffered from graffiti.
Two new wings of contrasting character extend into the park containing a garden court (the Art Garden) and new entrance - a setting for art and events which can bring new life to this part of the park. To the south, the transparent, slender wing of the café and its south facing terrace celebrate the park context and the avenue of mature trees. To the north the more solid form of the Landscape Gallery and Study Centre provide an urban edge and a visual and acoustic buffer that contains the garden. The north wing also houses new and much needed back-of-house facilities including a new loading bay, art handling facilities and a substantial goods lift that can deliver art to the three main levels of the existing building. (Prior to this there was no mechanical way to deliver substantial art to, for example, the existing sculpture gallery at mezzanine level).
New openings have been created in the existing building at significant locations connecting the new extension and providing the heart of the building with a range of long views – each connecting with green space beyond.
A promenade gallery wraps the existing exhibition galleries and provides a vantage point to view the garden and park beyond. This glazed link maximises the visual connections to and from the park, and connects the central exhibition gallery to the garden. Thus, artworks inside can connect with artworks outside. The promenade also provides an environmental buffer, critical to the passive approach to environmental control, additional display space most suited for sculpture and a more informal environment within which visitors can relax.
In plan the promenade is repeated at lower ground floor – a space of a very different character, which turns the former windowless basement into a generous lower ground floor. This lower promenade engages with the Art Garden and creates a welcoming informal park entrance at the west of the Whitworth. The Art Garden is lined with education facilities – a Collection Centre, Study Centre and a Learning Studio, from which classes can spill out into the Art Garden.
The creation of this courtyard and promenade allows light and park views into the heart of the existing building and turns an area of the park into a defensible space - one that is owned and overlooked by the gallery - the opposite of the previous situation. It offers an outdoor venue for events including, in the evenings, digital projection onto the wall of the Landscape Gallery. On rainy days, such events can equally be enjoyed from the glazed promenade and café over-looking the Art Garden. We envisage this to be, on occasion, a vibrant, changing environment, a place for artistic experimentation and enjoyment. In the hands of the Whitworth we have no doubt that this is a space where wonderful, odd things can and will happen.
Located as a destination on the main gallery level promenade, the Landscape Gallery to the north can provide a calm environment for the enjoyment of art. For a gallery often displaying landscape drawings and paintings, to us natural light and a visual connection with the park were fundamental. The gallery is rooflit and has a view addressing a single tree and the park beyond. To allow for flexibility there are light control mechanisms to both the rooflight and the window. The scale of the gallery and its structure will allow for contemporary works of considerable scale and weight.
Also placed at main gallery level, off the promenade, the café occupies the new south wing. In this location, each visit to the Whitworth’s café will draw the visitor through the building leading to an encounter with art within the gallery. With its transparent linear form positioned above a sloping site, as the ground falls away, diners will find themselves within the tree canopy – a dining experience unique to the Whitworth. The end of the café cantilevers creating a covered external space for the Learning Studio below.