Press and Publicity – 2 weeks to go!

31 01 2015
Poster at Euston Station, London

Poster at Euston Station, London

Things are really hotting up and this last week has seen the architectural press descend on the Gallery, as well as our reopening publicity campaign hit both the streets of Manchester and the capital. The poster above was spotted by eagle eyed Florence, 11 year old daughter of MUMA architect Simon Usher – she was chuffed!

Architectural Press launch

Architectural Press launch

Gallery Director, Maria Balshaw together with Stuart McKnight of our architects, MUMA, hosted a press launch at the Gallery on Wednesday including presentations, in-depth interviews and tours of the new building. Although the final hanging of the Gallery’s collections and exhibitions is still on-going, staff and contractors at the Whitworth had gone to great lengths to make existing spaces and the new building look its best, and there was a highly positive vibe to the day.

We are truly counting down now to our reopening on 14 February – be prepared to ‘Fall in Love Again’.


Architectural references

7 12 2014

It is almost two months until we reopen our doors to visitors and a good time to reflect on the wonderful MUMA designs for our new building and how, in part, they reference the earlier architectural design intervention of John Bikerdike and Partners in the early 1960s, and in turn Scandinavian design. The original gallery had developed in phases during the period 1889-1908 and little else done until the major modernist redevelopment soon after the gallery was handed over to the University of Manchester.

1960s Bikerdike redesign of the Whitworth

1960s Bikerdike redesign of the Whitworth

As described by the Architectural History Practice: “Bickerdike travelled in Scandinavia and was interested in Olof Olsson’s 1958 work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, perhaps partly because this too was an adaptation of a Victorian building in a park. There is anecdotal evidence that the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen was another influence. This museum is housed in a mid 19th century villa set in wooded grounds which was extended from 1958 by Jorgen Bo and Wilhelm Wohlert, initially with pavilions linked by glazed corridors. The villa origins, use of simple natural materials and engagement with the grounds offer an obvious parallel with the Whitworth Art Gallery.”

Gallery at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art designed 1958

Gallery at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art designed 1958

When MUMA first visited the Whitworth, during the architectural competition in 2009, they commented on the quality and beauty of the natural materials used by Bikerdike – stone, elm panelled walls and loliondo hardwood flooring. These materials were a modern equivalent of the terracotta, marble and oak parquet floors from the original Edwardian building, and MUMA were determined to continue this tradition of working only with good quality materials and the highest standards of finish.

Sofa in the library at Louisiana

Sofa in the library at Louisiana

New oak seating at the Whitworth

New oak seating at the Whitworth

The Whitworth's South Gallery made the greatest connections with the surrounding park

The Whitworth’s South Gallery made the greatest connections with the surrounding park

In addition the brief to MUMA was to reconnect the Gallery with the external landscape – providing new views out to Whitworth Park and bringing the outside in. And, as the new building development nears its completion, there is no doubt at all that this latest architectural intervention is meeting the brief. We are currently deliberately avoiding publishing too many photographs of the new building – excitement is growing and we don’t want to spoil the surprise!

On Friday of last week, I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, just north of Copenhagen; it was my first visit, and I absolutely loved it. The parallels between each of the three architectural visions are obvious – the placement of the building within the surrounding parkland, the play of light, natural materials, the connections between the art and the landscape – the list goes on. I spent over 8 hours at Louisiana and took hundreds of photographs – it was impossible to decide what to include here, but in the end I was taken by an evening view into the gallery that almost replicates a view of the amazing new window that looks over Denmark Road in Manchester!

View at Louisiana from the garden into the gallery at night

View at Louisiana from the garden into the gallery at night

Night-time light and trees at the new Whitworth

Night-time light and trees at the new Whitworth

Progress on our Oxford Road entrance

9 10 2014


Its been a while since the last blog post, but there has been much progress on site, with the biggest difference being visible at the Oxford Road side of the building. A month or two ago, staff ceased to be able to enter the building through the original portico and we currently have a temporary side entrance. From then onwards, our new contractors, Manchester & Cheshire have been busy reconfiguring the stone steps, removing the brick and terracotta walls and levelling out the ground to make our new landscaped frontage and sculpture terrace.

The following images chart this progress:

Each stone step is numbered before removal

Each stone step is numbered before removal

This one is number 38!

This one is number 38!

The brick structure beneath the stone steps revealed

The brick structure beneath the stone steps revealed

The Mike Lyons sculpture 'Phalanx' is carefully removed from site

The Mike Lyons sculpture ‘Phalanx’ is carefully removed from site

Foundations are put in place for siting sculpture and for the new steps and disabled access

Foundations are put in place for siting sculpture and for the new steps and disabled access

New stone steps are carefully aligned and laid in place

New stone steps are carefully aligned and laid in place

The base for a new set of steps is constructed near the gates onto Oxford Road

The base for a new set of steps is constructed near the gates onto Oxford Road

While the new build element of our project is still somewhat hidden behind the hoardings at the park side of the Gallery, everyone passing can enjoy progress at the Oxford Road side. We are now counting down to our reopening to the public on Saturday 14 February 2015 and excitement is growing – we can’t wait to welcome everyone back into our lovely building, both the old and the new.

Work starts on transforming the Grand Hall

17 03 2014

Work starts on transforming the Grand Hall

Construction work at the Gallery has very definitely moved from the rear of the building and there is now also considerable activity at the Oxford Road side too. Over the last few weeks, ISG have set up camp in the Gallery grounds to the east of the building and passers by will have seen a steady stream of contractors bringing material out of the building as demolition got underway on the Grand Hall.

The first job was to remove the 1970s suspended ceiling that hid the old air conditioning and wooden walkways – clearly visible in the photograph above. Once this has also been stripped away, the historic hammer beam roof and decorative arches, until now hidden from view, will be a beautiful feature of the Grand Hall.

The new Grand Hall will be a lovely space for Gallery events and functions

The new Grand Hall will be a lovely space for Gallery events and functions

Also now gone are the partition walls that for so long had divided up the space creating the two separate study rooms for fine art and textiles, and also small central curatorial offices – the scale of the room that will be used for a variety of functions and activities is truely magnificent (see details of our plans for the new Grand Hall in a blog post last November:

A forest of scaffolding poles heralds the next phase in the work on the Grand Hall

A forest of scaffolding poles heralds the next phase in the work on the Grand Hall

More recently scaffolding poles and planking have been taken inside and a forest of scaffolding is being built inside the Grand Hall to continue with the next phase of work, so watch this space as the development progresses. Due to the ISG move to the front of the building, there is now no public access to our grassy frontage or to the Park via the Gallery grounds. However, the daffodils are out in Whitworth Park – its a lovely place for a stroll or a lunchtime picnic, and still accessible from all the other park gates.

Whitworth Friends support our building project

6 03 2014

Whitworth Friends support our building project 2

Last weekend, one of the Friends of the Whitworth generously opened their home as a Pop-up Gallery selling works by local artists, as well as famous names such as Terry Frost and Eric Gill, all in support of the Gallery in the Park building project. This is the latest venture amongst many creative events the Friends have organised towards the funding of the Gallery development, including £100,000 towards preparatory costs including the architectural competition in 2009, and a further £155,000 to date. The FoW are particularly interested in funding the fit out of the Collections Access Area, and a number of Friends have volunteered and are currently undergoing extensive training to become Volunteer Collection Access Assistants to help increase public access to the Whitworth’s Collections (see previous blog post:

Artist Mim with a purchase at Susan Brown's Pop-Up Gallery, Wilmslow

Artist Mim with a purchase at Susan Brown’s Pop-Up Gallery, Wilmslow

FoW Susan Brown (centre) with artist Alison Murdoch, and Whitworth Director Maria Balshaw

FoW Susan Brown (centre) with artist Alison Murdoch, and Whitworth Director Maria Balshaw

The Friends organisation has been flourishing for 80 years – set up originally to support a purchasing fund for the Gallery so that the collection could be enlarged and refreshed, and since then has contributed to the purchase of over 1,000 works of art. Friends enjoy a varied and exciting programme of activities including exhibition openings, lectures (including the annual Pilkington Lecture), concerts and exhibition-related films in the Gallery, plus tours to other collections, galleries and private houses both in the UK and abroad. This week saw the third in a series of ‘Gallery in the Park’ talks alongside a site tour and walk in our adjacent green space, lead by Ken Shone, Chair of the Friends of Whitworth Park.

The Friends of the Whitworth’s vision is to be recognised as one of the best Friends’ organisations in the UK, friendly and open to all who want to share their curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, art at the Whitworth – with, as they say ‘something for everyone’. Members receive a regular glossy newsletter keeping them in touch with the Gallery and the Friends….so if you are looking to actively support the Gallery’s re-opening and be part of all the opportunities the Friends and the new Whitworth has to offer, join them at

Use this contact above if you would like to purchase a work and find out more about the Pop-up Gallery or alternatively join in with the Friends Fundraising Auction where there are more amazing works of art to buy at:

Big, Beautiful and Bright – comments from Whitworth staff

27 02 2014

Big, Beautiful and Bright - comments from Whitworth staff

After so much recent rain, it was lovely to be able to go on site this afternoon with a group of Whitworth staff and witness at first hand the late afternoon, winter sunshine streaming across the Art Garden and into the Promenade.

Views of the park were high on the list of staff comments, with a real pleasure expressed by the intimacy between views out to the Art Garden and into the Collections Access Area and Study Centre – ‘we can’t wait to see it when all the windows are revealed’ and the glazing protection taken down. Members of the Learning team were excited too by the connections between the inside and external spaces – the Bi-fold doors that have just been installed in the Learning studio will come into their own as families drop in for the exciting programme of activities in store.


The Cafe remains a firm favourite – so lovely to imagine sitting within the canopy of the trees sipping coffee – and don’t forget too the Cafe Terrace, which will surely become a great place for lunch on a summer’s day.

Staff were bowled over by the spaces, expressing surprise over the sheer scale of the Landscape Gallery (reminiscent to one of White Cube at Mason’s Yard, London), and generally how so much of the new build felt bigger than when just seen on the plans.

Some staff are currently ensconced in rather old and dingy temporary office accommodation, and so the visit was a good reminder of what we are all working towards, seeing ‘our new, amazing Gallery makes you realise it will be worth it in the end’ – the word ‘Magnificent’ summed it all up!

A precision building taking shape

20 02 2014

A precision building taking shape 2

Last week, we were pleased to welcome Jane Arthur, one of our HLF monitors to see how the new building is progressing. Jane is a freelance consultant for the museums, heritage and cultural sector and has been working with us on the project since we secured our HLF funding. She is particularly interested in an audience focused approach combined with an informed understanding of museum collection needs, and so has been assisting us in looking at how our Conservation Management Plan and Activity Plan work together.

This was Jane’s first visit on site – “It was fascinating to see the structures I was so familiar with from plans and elevations taking physical shape on site. I was struck by the contrast between changes in working practice describing the way the original building was constructed to current practice. The emphasis on precision and exact positioning, including modelling features in polysterene, practice brickwork and samples. In both old and new though there was care given to the selection and use of materials.


But what really caught my attention were the colours – everything (apart from our bright high viz jackets) was in muted earth tones – from the gloopy mud to the brickwork. With this restricted palette I ended up looking closely at the subtle variations different tones of bricks make across a wall and the small patterns in the flooring slabs set off by the white of gallery walls. Looking out of the windows of what will be the restaurant in the trees I was amazed at how close the trees were to the building. With the glass in place the inside/outside feel was perfect, even on a very windy and grey afternoon. There are definitely landscapes in the building before the art goes in!”



Our final photographs show Jane, with Bob from ISG and other Whitworth staff surrounded by scaffolding in the exhibition galleries, and then high up amongst the beams of the roof – Jane commented: “I always like going to parts of a site that will be inaccessible when the building is complete. Climbing up to the top of the original gallery to see the original structure we were accompanied by a gentle fall of ‘polysterene snow’ from the roof insulation.”

The Devil is in the detail – fixtures and fittings

17 02 2014

Its all in the detail

An important part of any project, are all the finishes – the detailing of brickwork and stone paving (see previous blog posts: and, window openings, light switches, floor surfaces etc, and so ISG have set up cabins dedicated to storing a huge range of samples. These are for both the Design Team and the contractors to assess all the various materials, check that fitments integrate correctly with adjacent surfaces, and that the design and quality of everything adheres to the high standards set by MUMA from the outset.

The top image shows a series of samples and mock-ups including, from the left, a window, a stainless steel external door (such as the one that will lead from the Lower Promenade to the Orchard Garden), and a roof hand-rail – a Health & Safety feature for when any staff need to gain access to the roof. Below are light fittings – for both exhibition galleries and back-of-house spaces, and finally lots of small scale but important fittings relating to fire alarms, light switches and sockets, and containment for the miles of wiring that the M&E teams are currently installing.



Latest bird’s eye view of the construction site

13 02 2014

Latest bird's eye view of the construction site

Earlier this week I managed to dodge the rain and get back up on the roof of the nearby student Halls of Residence on Denmark Road to take this latest bird’s eye view of the construction site. On first glance it might not seem as if much has changed since the last view in mid November (see:, but on closer inspection you can see progress on the installation of window frames and glazing, in particular the large window in the Landscape Gallery facing the park, and also at the far end of the Cafe. Brickwork is also moving on and slowly creeping up the walls of the Landscape Gallery, and the huge high level window looking northwards that will bring a diffused light into the Landscape Gallery is now being fitted out within the steel structure – a move that will finally make this area watertight.


Elsewhere within the internal spaces, more work is ongoing to plaster walls, fit-out services, and lay screeds and stone paving. Preparations are being made to make the openings from the Exhibition Galleries and South Promenade through to the existing Gallery, and work has started on the installation of the 53 person goods lift.

Just some great images!

3 02 2014

Just some great photos!

Not much for me to report right now – progress continues on site, but its been quite difficult to get around, not just because of the rain, but as so many areas are currently having floor screeds or stone paving laid, so access routes are restricted.

So instead I’m going to show a few images that are ‘during’ shots – phases of the building work that once completed will never look like this again, or may never even be visible to anyone:

First up (above), perfect circles cut into the brickwork and precisely aligned between the arches of the Lower Promenade, that will become part of the ventilation system. Secondly (below), the steel structure, seen from the inside, that forms the huge high level window from the Landscape Gallery looking out over Denmark Road.


And finally, a view of the South Promenade wall – the wall that used to be the exterior of the Gallery, but is now internal – with work ongoing to remove poor and damaged bricks ready for replacement with reclaimed bricks, and finally cleaning and repointing. The area of white wall at the far end used to be within a small outbuilding, demolished at the start of the project – this is where a new door will be opened up between the Promenade and the existing South Gallery.