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



9 05 2014

Anyone who visits the Whitworth Art Gallery will know that it is situated in the nearest and largest area of green space directly south of Manchester city centre, and in recent years a number of initiatives have gone a long way to integrating the Gallery with its adjacent parkland, whether that is removing the fence separating the two, installing artworks in the surrounding landscape, or encouraging children’s activities in the park in true forest school style (see:

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The first page of MUMA’s concept sketchbook illustrated the importance of the Inside/Outisde, alongside a quote from previous Gallery Director, Margaret Pilkington, who following a visit to Oslo in 1932, wrote:

“I have come to the conclusion that a good museum or gallery should be a place where people feel comfortable. If it stands in a garden or park, the visitors should be able to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors as a counterpoint to what is within.”

In 2011, the Southbank Centre commissioned the Eden Project to create a roof garden on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall where people can relax, eat and drink. In the following film, Gallery staff on a research visit discuss the effects of creating open, green spaces within buildings for the arts. The team from the Whitworth Art Gallery reflect on the importance of the Whitworth Park as the setting for the redeveloped Gallery, and the importance of location in developing both the Gallery programme and visitor services.

Inside/Outside from Belle Vue Productions on Vimeo.

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!

Installing the ground source heat pump system

27 01 2014

Installing the ground source heat pump system

It is not just the endless rain that Manchester has suffered over the last few weeks that has left the ISG site rather wet and muddy – drilling bore holes for the Gallery’s new ground source heat pump system dredges up vast quantities of wet, muddy, slurry from deep underground. Installing such a system requires space, something that we benefit from being situated as we are in Whitworth Park.

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The Design Team have chosen to install a vertical system that buries pipework within a series of boreholes across a borehole field in the new Art Garden, indicated in the diagram by the area coloured pink. These boreholes are around 150m deep, and each contain several pipes.

The pipes don’t look too exciting as they stand, but ultimately water and anti-freeze passing through the closed loop system of pipes will absorb the naturally occurring heat stored in the ground. This heat then passes via the pump, increasing the temperature and feeding radiators and underfloor heating inside the Gallery. Not only will the Gallery have good ambient heating, but it is all part of the Design Team’s sustainable strategy, making excellent use of our adjacent park and adding to our green credentials.



Using a painter’s palette to create a beautiful wilderness with Sarah Price

10 10 2013

Using a painter’s palette to create a beautiful wilderness with Sarah Price

Today’s blog post is from Denise Bowler, the Gallery’s Secondary & Post-16 Coordinator, hot off the press following an inspiring day spent with Sarah Price (see previous blog posts about her work and plans for the Gallery).

The Learning & Engagement team at the Whitworth met with the garden designer Sarah Price and we were privy to a peek at the proposed plans for the Gallery’s Art Garden, Gallery Orchard and the landscaping of the Oxford Road entrance to the gallery – it all looks incredibly exciting. The designs respond perfectly to the spaces and make a brilliant connection to the Gallery in the Park blurring the boundaries between gallery, park and urban meadow.

Sarah Price is well known for her Olympic Gardens and Chelsea gold medal winning, naturalistic planting scheme both in 2012, as well as numerous other interesting projects in public sites. Having trained as a visual artist, Sarah draws on a painterly approach to her designs, showing sensitivity to the location and history of a site, as well as the climate and ecology of the surroundings.

It was really useful for the Learning team to gain an understanding of Sarah’s ideas and approach. We were all really inspired by her playful designs, which invite the public to interact with and be part of that landscape. This timely opportunity to meet gave the team scope to further shape the proposals to suit all the Gallery’s visitors. Sarah was very interested to hear more about all their specific interests and ways in which we may use the green spaces leading to the park.

BW Hedge balls

Planting will appear soft, natural and organic with layers at differing heights. Formed from ‘transparent’ grasses and perennials, loosely clipped, evergreen hedging like rolling, distorted ‘clouds’ and contrasting tones of grasses and seedheads at lower levels of the planting scheme.

Orchard Garden2

Potential fruit trees for the orchard may be sloe berries and damsons, with the possibility of introducing some damson trees into the hedging in the park too. Other ideas for the park include undulating mounds using spoils from the excavation of the gallery and lawn clipping to create line and texture.

It will be interesting to see ideas blossom in response to these new outside spaces. So do keep reading to find out more about the changing landscapes.