Barbican Art Gallery

London. 2003

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2003
  • Cost: £1.5 Million
  • Clients: City of London Corporation

Involving a series of invisible mending operations, the Barbican Art Gallery project is part of a continuing story of upgrading and uplifting the imposing Barbican Arts Centre. The centre’s original art gallery – a relic of utopian 1960s cross-cultural thinking – was a double-level open plan exhibition space in an open plan building; therefore fatally compromised as a place for displaying art to modern museum standards. While restoring key elements of the original architecture, the project resolves the detrimental aspects of the gallery’s original relationship to its surroundings, creating an expanded, independent space through the demolition of a 17-tonne redundant concrete stair and the filling in of the void to the foyers below. The twin double-height spaces at the lower gallery level are reinstated, a white terrazzo floor laid over the original dark-patterned brickwork and 4.5m high display walls added to the perimeter to give the gallery practical hanging space while concealing densely-packed climate control equipment. Working with the muscular fabric rather than against it, the interventions restore the original aesthetics wherever possible.

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This £1.5m scheme, funded by the Corporation of London, seals off the 2 storey gallery from the library and foyer below it, to provide increased and enhanced space.  While restoring key elements of the original architecture, the project resolves the detrimental aspects of the gallery’s original relationship to its surroundings, creating an independent space that fulfils the previously unattainable and stringent environmental conditions required for world-class exhibitions.

Fundamental to its transformation has been the closing of the void between the gallery floors and the library and foyer below.  

Removing the redundant staircase between the library and the art gallery and extending the gallery floor to infill the void, the exhibition space is for the first time made separate and environmentally independent.  

Eliminating problems of sound transfer between the very different uses of these public spaces, and facilitating the guarantee of insulation and humidity control, the gallery is made architecturally complete with 140m2 of new floor space and more flexible display area.

The closing of the shaft creates a more coherent and practical exhibition space.  Retaining the stair link between its two levels, double height spaces visually connect the open setting of the reworked lower gallery floor with the enfilade of rooms arranged around the upper level.  Noise from public use and performances in the foyer are prevented from intruding into the gallery environment while exhibitions can explore auditory as well as visual themes.

With the physical separation of the gallery, its climate can be fully controlled and its conditions monitored, making highly prestigious loans possible for exhibitions.  A highly automated air venting system - the first of its kind in a gallery setting - has been installed. This has been carefully integrated into the building in such a way that the architectural coherence of the space is retained and, at the same time, provides significant areas of large-scale permanent display wall for the first time in the gallery’s history.  Combined with new thermal insulation of the external cladding, improved control of interior temperature and humidity is made possible.  As a result, international  standards are ensured, enhancing the Gallery’s position as a world-class venue for arts.

Revealing the original pick hammered concrete columns rising up through the gallery - a signature feature of the whole Centre - the modernist principles and features of the space have been restored.  New flooring throughout, a resin bound quartz and mother of pearl aggregate on the lower level and a matte resin on the floor above, lighten the space while ensuring the necessary robust and durable finish to withstand the impact of setting up and dismantling displays.

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