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Walking tall

aj refurbishment

In a flush of self-assertion between 1841 and 1884, Liverpool built most of the civic and cultural buildings that have come to be seen as its cultural quarter. Though now ringed by major roads, the quarter is not a main pedestrian through-route and the pedestrianising ground treatment has helped make William Brown Street, just off the city centre, into an island of quiet.

On one side of the street is St George's Hall and St John's Gardens. On the other, running down the hill, are the Neo-Classical stone facades of the Sessions House, the Walker Art Gallery, Picton Reading Rooms, the library (formerly part of the Liverpool Museum) and the museum itself. The museum is currently extending into the 1902 Mountford Building at the bottom of the hill as part of a refurbishment being carried out by LDN Architects, which also carried out the refurbishment of the Walker, which we look at here.

The Walker has a chequered history, which has shaped this refurbishment. Wide but a little squat, the facade of this twostorey building, designed by local architect Sherlock and Vale, filled its slot on the hill when first opened in 1877. Behind the facade, the building was unusually shallow.

How much of this was part of a grander plan is not clear. But the mayor, Andrew Barclay Walker, financed both the 1877 building and a larger extension (again by Sherlock) to the rear as soon as 1884.

Certainly the 1877 building was instantly popular, with 610,799 visitors in 1881.

There were many donations of artworks.

A further extension, off axis to fit along the street to the rear, was built in 1933 to designs by Sir Arnold Thornley. It is a wellmannered Classical addition to the existing architecture, comprising gallery spaces above library use. At the same time, Thornley remodelled the main entrance hall, including matched grand staircases on either side. But he was not able to carry through this entry sequence to connect with his extension, and the extension is a surprise when you find it for the first time.

The heyday of the museum ran through to the Second World War. Closed during that war, bomb damage to the nearby museum led to much of the Walker's ground floor space being taken over as offices and storage, a usage that largely continues today.

The post-war reopening in 1951 saw some ofthe 1933 extension in use, but over the years the three main galleries - Bartlett, Audley and Prince George - were largely turned to other uses - conservation studio, dark room, plant, escape stair and picture store. It is these three galleries that are the main focus of LDN's refurbishment.

With this history, entering the Walker today is a strange progression. There is one ground floor gallery on the right as you enter, then a cafe and shop in the main lobby area beyond it, plus another newly reopened craft and design gallery space to the right of the lobby, which is to house some of Liverpool's large collection of decorative arts objects. Apart from these ground floor spaces, all the galleries are upstairs.

On reaching the first floor, you pass through two galleries to arrive at the 1933 extension entrance. Once there, LDN has made the best use of the saw-tooth-plan area between the 1884 and 1933 galleries, providing a foyer containing a reception/ticketing area, second shop and small audio-visual area. This foyer acts as an environmental transition and a modern interlude between sets of galleries of somewhat differing styles.

The refurbished galleries provide space for travelling exhibitions, delivering the quality of environmental control necessary for a gallery on the international circuit, air conditioned and with controlled lighting throughout. From the foyer area, you enter the small Bartlett gallery, which feeds into the two principal refurbished spaces, the Audley and Prince George galleries.

During the refurbishment, more recent work has been undone, notably removing a plethora of partitions and suspended ceiling, with plaster and timber floors repaired.

Where necessary, doorcases, entablatures and cornices have been recreated.

The Prince George is an imposing space with its coffered vault ceiling with applied plaster. Acoustic absorbent panels have been fitted in the coffers and the vault ends. Here and in the Bartlett gallery, the daylight louvres are computer-controlled. UV film has been applied to the windows and rooflights.

In the Audley gallery, the ceiling is a raised central strip, flanked by horizontal laylights. These are now artificially lit, with the space above a welcome service void.

Much effort has gone into finding space for services. There are occasional bulkheads but generally the effect is admirably discreet.

Air, electrics and security are supplied through the floor. Air extract is at high level.

For the walls, gypsum fibreboard has been used over the panelling rather than the damask elsewhere in the gallery. Thus the walls can be readily redecorated for different exhibitions. Paints have to be tested prior to use to avoid any fumes affecting the art exhibits. To maintain flexibility, free-standing display units and loose benches were made.

The floor was also strengthened from below to support today's larger sculptures; the backof-house below is of 'relatively low heritage value', according to the Conservation Plan.

If the overall visitor impression now is the successful return of the galleries to a former condition, the underlying modernisation is a significant step forward for Liverpool in the national and international arts scene. Indeed, the project is just one part of the £40 million scheme for rejuvenating the quarter, heavily supported by the Lottery and the European Regional Development Fund. There were also donors, including the Woolfson Foundation, which has financed refurbishment of two 17th century galleries in the Walker's 1933 extension.

For the Walker, gallery keeper Julian Treuherz is hoping this is not the end. With the museum refurbishment and extension nearing completion, there is the possibility of freeing up gallery space on the ground floor. And then there are the decorative arts, a large Liverpool collection. The new ground floor gallery, converted to office use by Thornley in 1933 and closed to the public since, needs to be bigger. It will also be competing for space with the lobby cafe, which needs to expand. One hope is that the Sessions House next-door might become a gallery for this in its own right.

There may be no funding at the moment for future phases, but at least the dreams exist.

For information visit www. thewalker. org. uk

CREDITS

TENDER DATE November 1999

CONTRACT DURATION Enabling works: May 2000 - August 2000 Main works: August 2000 - October 2001

COMPLETION DATE October 2001

GROSS FLOOR AREA 3,000m 2

CONTRACT TYPE JCT 98

TOTAL COST £4.3 million

COST PER M 2£1,433.33

CLIENT National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside

ARCHITECT LDN Architects: Mark Sidgwick (partner), Julie Wilson (project architect), Paul Fear, Dermot Patterson, Gordon Pyper, Richard Webb, Andrew PK Wright

QUANTITY SURVEYOR Rex Procter and Partners

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Curtins Consulting Engineers

SERVICES ENGINEER DMP Consulting Engineers

EXHIBITION LIGHTING DESIGNER Lighting Design and Technology

SIGNAGE / GRAPHICS DESIGN Reich and Petch Design International

MAIN CONTRACTOR HBG Construction Northwest

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS mechanical and electrical Rotary Northwest; gallery furniture Darren Barclay Furniture; metalwork Taylor & Russell; curtain walling JMW Aluminium; gallery rooflights Vitral UK; steelwork Cringate Engineering; picture lift Breakell Lifts; glass gallery doors Solaglas/Saint-Gobain; limestone flooring

DAR; timber doors Leaderflush + Shapland; daylight control blinds Levolux A T; asphalt roofing Briggs Roofing and Cladding; gallery wall lining Fermacell

WEBLINKS

Walker Art Gallery www. thewalker. org. uk

LDN Architects www. ldn. co. uk

Curtins Consulting Engineers www. curtins. com

Reich + Petch Design www. reich-petch. com

HBG Construction Northeast www. hbgc. co. uk

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