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.


From the ‘dark heart’ of the Whitworth Art Gallery

27 04 2014

From the 'dark heart' of the Whitworth Art Gallery

The new doorway that will open out from the Pilkington Gallery, located right in the middle of the existing galleries, will form a central link between the old and the new, and bring more views of the adjacent park right into the building. The image shows construction of this new opening in progress, one of four new doorways being created between the present galleries and the new build element of MUMA’s design – the other three being routes out along the new Promenade Galleries on two levels.

The following image shows the change that this doorway will have on the Pilkington Gallery – at the top, two glass doors took visitors into the two main exhibition galleries, whereas the Architect’s concept image below, shows how the new single door will provide a central entrance to our future suite of three exhibition galleries; in addition, the available hanging space in the Pilkington Gallery is increased.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.23.38

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.

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.



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.


The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley *

9 01 2014

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,  Gang aft agley

It has been almost a month since my last blog post, so welcome back to those of you who have been loyal followers and to anyone else joining for the first post of 2014! There have been very specific reasons for the long silence – the obvious one has been the traditional construction industry shut-down for the Christmas break which meant that there has been relatively little to report from the site, but secondly I’ve had no time to sit at my computer as the collections care and curatorial teams have been cracking on with a huge and unexpected additional decant job which has taken over our lives.

Over the years I’ve watched enough episodes of Grand Designs to know that things don’t always go quite to plan, and while the first part of our decant programme in September went according to the schedule, unfortunately we have been unable to complete the process as expected. Our new stores are not yet ready for us to move into, but like one of those sliding tile puzzles, the ISG construction team need to move into the spaces that our collections currently occupy, so its all systems go and we are on the move again.



Three stores have had to move and this includes works from all of our collections – fine art, textiles and wallpapers. New spaces have had to be cleared to make way for the collections, new boxes ordered for temporary storage, new short-term systems devised to accommodate items that should have moved instead to their permanent homes and every item carefully logged as their location has changed. All this has been achieved within a very chilly building and with no access to a lift – so a huge thanks is due to all Whitworth staff involved as well as all the extra external assistance. The downside is obviously the double handling and the cost of materials, staff time and other storage costs, while on the positive side this interim move has revealed some outstanding issues relating to permanent storage that call for collections management or collection care solutions and its been a great opportunity to shed those Christmas calories!

* For Robert Burns poem and an explanation of the dialect, see:

Protecting the ‘Enchanted Forest’

12 12 2013

Protecting the 'Enchanted Forest'

One of the things that first inspired our architects MUMA when they initially visited the Whitworth back in 2009 was the beauty of the mature ash and London plane trees adjacent to the building in Whitworth Park, and since part of the design brief was to deliver a green and sustainable project, protection of as many of these trees as possible was high on the list of deliverables.

Little attention had been given to the trees over the years and as a consequence their growth was quite unrestrained – this abandonment gave the appearance of an ‘Enchanted Forest’, one that delighted the architects and showed us that with careful consideration could become an important feature of the overall design and new connections with the park.

MUMA’s design includes a wing housing the Learning Studio with the Cafe above it extending out into the park and very close to the trees – it was essential therefore for the trees to be surveyed and for both the architects and structural engineers, Ramboll to find design solutions that protect the trees and retain the wonderful old avenue. The team worked closely with an arboriculturist from Manchester City Council, who confirmed that the London planes were robust and could tolerate root pruning and that the crown should also be reduced – the photograph shows individual branches earmarked for lopping – while the ash trees were more sensitive and required Ramboll to design piling for the building foundations in specific locations that would miss their roots.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.50.36

pruning trees adjacent to new build

During the development phase of the project, judicial tree surgery was undertaken to improve the health and balance of the trees before construction work started, a construction exclusion zone and tree protection plan was put in place for the construction company to follow and recommendations made for the continuing long-term maintenance of the trees. Happily only one single tree was found to be in poor health and was removed, and as part of the project new planting will add to the diversity of our parkland setting.

Takeover Day!

2 12 2013

Takeover Day!

We may be closed for now but that doesn’t stop Takeover Day! The
Children’s Commissioner’s Takeover Day gives children and young adults the
opportunity to experience the world of work and make their voices heard
within organisations and institutions. Whitworth Art Gallery continously
values our young audiences feedback and thoughts throughout the year, and
any excuse to work closely with local school groups and provide a platform
to encourage children to speak out has to be taken! This year, Rolls
Crescent Primary School were invited to join the Manchester Museum team
and ourselves to partake in a number of set briefs to help our own
development for the future build and it’s spaces.

Incorporating forest schools ethos into our takeover day programme, the
morning began with a outdoor construction activity looking at MUMA’s
architectural plans currently being built by the construction team,
ISG. The children, after running around and taking in some of the park’s
characters (most notably the ‘Willow Genesis’ aka Wicker Ma’am and the
very autumnal coloured umbrellas in the trees) began making a 2D birds eye
view of the Gallery structure using sticks and other natural resources
found in the area. In true forest school style, the children challenged
themselves and before we knew it, the 2D build had come off the ground and
taken on a 3D form – all done with energy, style, team work and with the
help of one of the crispest, brightest November mornings we are ever
likely to see to fuel the imagination!

The morning was topped off perfectly by the attendance of Mark Slater and
Aalia Khalid from ISG. Mark and Aalia visited the children in the park, to
share with the group their experience of the Whitworth capital development
project whilst giving some intriguing insight into the new build and
answering any questions that came their way – we are always appreciative
of ISG’s time and we thank them again for adding their expertise to this
special event.

The Year 6’s utilised the space on our blackboard hoardings to thrash out
ideas and visions for what they wish to see for when we re-open September
2014 – and as you would expect, we will listen and act upon their wishes!

Be sure to check out Rolls Crescent’s ideas board in the Park whilst you
See what we got up to later that day at the Museum –

The Whitworth’s building project one year on

28 11 2013

We moved officially from development phase to delivery phase of the Gallery’s capital development project in November 2012 when our contractors ISG arrived on site.  Hopefully since then you have been following progress on site as well as watching other related activities such as ideas around landscape design, Learning team events with visitors, exhibition loans and collections decant.

A huge amount of progress has been made so far, much of this being captured on the time lapse camera sited on the roof of the nearby University Halls of Residence on Denmark Road, and the rest being documented via staff snap-shots, and professional photographers.  Every visit on site reveals a new piece of the jigsaw coming together and a greater understanding of how the architects’ vision is fast becoming reality.

The basic structure of the building is now complete, so the contractors have for some weeks now been turning their attention to the ‘first fix’ – this includes laying cables and pipes, underfloor heating, and plastering some internal walls.  With this level of detail it is becoming easier for Gallery staff to imagine working in the new areas and make the connections between the existing gallery spaces and the new building.

While I have spent much time over the last few years closely associated with the project, and increasing amounts of time recently on site, I’m still a conservator at heart, so in the spirit of documenting the process – here is a selection of ‘before’ and ‘during’ images of the new Gallery in the Park project – there is still more work ahead, so keep on visiting the blog for continuing up-dates.