North West, Premier Construction

Historic gallery transformation is a work of art

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Retail Design Expo
Retail Design Expo

Nathan Coley's The Gathering of Strangers, The Whitworth, Photographer Alan Williams

Whitworth Art Gallery, part of The University of Manchester, has been refurbished, remodelled and extended, following a £15 million redevelopment project transforming the 125 year old building into a 21st century gallery in the park.

The redevelopment, which has been supported by a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant, The University of Manchester and other funders, has doubled public space and created state-of-the-art new facilities including expanded gallery spaces, a learning studio, study centre and a collections access zone.

The Project Architects were MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) who were selected from an initial field of 139 entrants in November 2009, following an architectural competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Main contractors were ISG and Manchester & Cheshire Construction.

The Whitworth was founded in 1889 and is situated in the north east corner of Whitworth Park. The building is an amalgamation of separate stages of development that have been undertaken over the past 126 years.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Unmanned Nature, Landscape Gallery, The Whitworth, Photographer Alan Williams

The aim of the project was to make the gallery’s internationally important collection of fine art, textiles and wallpaper accessible to a wider range of visitors, to make better use of the existing gallery spaces and to establish a relationship with the surrounding grounds.

At the heart of MUMA’s major redevelopment project is the creation of an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension, comprising two wings extended into Whitworth Park from the back of the existing 19th century building.

The wings are connected by a glass promenade gallery that allows visitors to engage fully with the park, from both within the extension and the newly renovated existing galleries.

The new brick built, street-facing Landscape Gallery wing runs along Denmark Road and includes a new landscape gallery with views over the park from the first floor and a study centre at ground floor level. For the brick façade MUMA developed a Whitworth blend of Northcot British brick and a brickwork pattern inspired by the gallery’s extensive textile collection, in particular the slash and stitch work.

Cornelia Parker's Cold Dark Matter, The Whitworth, Photographer Alan Williams

The café wing is a two-storey, cantilevered glass structure designed to sit alongside the trees in Whitworth Park. It houses a new café and Learning Studio, and its translucent façade is designed to sit gently within its park surroundings.

The upper promenade with views over the art garden allows visitors to move directly between the landscape gallery and café, as well as to access the newly renovated main exhibition galleries.

Extensive refurbishment of the existing 19th century building included restoring the volume of the three 19th century barrel-vault exhibition gallery ceilings to enable the display of major, large scale shows. Visitors can also now access the superbly reinstated Grand Hall on the first floor through Edwardian staircases returned to public use for the first time in over 50 years.

The Grand Hall, with its original hammer-beam barrel ceiling and painted timber wall paneling, offers an impressive light-filled space to accommodate public and private events.

Cornelia Parker's exhibition, Central Exhibition Space, The Whitworth, Photographer Alan Williams

The newly remodelled, extended and refurbished Whitworth now has a total of approximately 6000 sq m of public space, plus approximately 850 sq m of collections storage.

Aspex UK supplied the architectural ironmongery on the Whitworth Art Gallery project, which included the hinges, sliding door systems, locks and door hardware. The company worked with MUMA for two years on the complex scheme, which involved supplying specialist products for a number of large doors which also required a high security rating.

Ashley Burbery of Aspex UK, said:

“We were asked by the architects to provide solutions for a number of unique situations and the expertise of Darren Wetton Dip G.A.I. our technical consultant ensured that we were able to assist.

“We are a supply chain partner with ISG and have worked closely with them over the last six years.”

Genesis's Epstein, The Whitworth Glass Promenade, Photographer Alan Williams

TMJ Contractors Ltd was responsible for a number of bespoke manufactured joinery products on the Whitworth project, including the supply and installation of bespoke manufactured American White Oak doorsets, storage cupboards and wall panelling. The American White Oak veneer was individually hand-selected by Simon Branson at the company’s importers library in London, then book-matched, stitched and lacquered to form the required finishes.

TMJ was also responsible for American White Oak veneered seating to the lower ground Promenade & Learning-Gathering Spaces; desks for the Collection Zone; flush-design architectural ironmongery from Aspex UK featuring concealed hinges to give a seamless hanging effect to the doorsets within the wall panelling; and site-formed, bespoke flush skirting with precision shadow gaps to create further hanging and suspended effects to other finishes.

The Whitworth Cafe, Photographer Alan Williams

In addition, TMJ also installed bespoke Corian worktops to the bathrooms and factory finished doorsets to the WCs. Meanwhile, externally the company carried out extensive structural and remedial roof works to support the installation of new roof light windows.

Natalie Taylor, Business Development Manager for TMJ Contractors Ltd, said:

“Our works at The Whitworth were immensely important to us, in terms of being a challenge and overcoming the constraints and complexities of working within a Grade II Listed building plus the prestige of working on and helping to conserve such a well-known venue that forms part of our local heritage. We have worked alongside a fantastic site management team and supply chain, all with the same drive as TMJ to present an outstanding facility for both the local community and the client. We have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of such a prominent and admired project in collaboration with ISG and MUMA.”

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