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Barbican Art Gallery environmentally upgraded by RUFFarchitects

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Emerging practice RUFF architects has overhauled the Grade II-listed exhibition space after winning the contract earlier this year

The £650,000 project, which was finished on a tight deadline, aimed to restore and upgrade the 1982 gallery, created as part of the larger Chamberlin, Powell & Bon-designed Barbican Arts Centre featuring a theatre, cinema, conference centre, library and restaurants.

The refurbishment had to be completed in a 12-week programme between back-to-back exhibitions. The complex upgrades, which improve access and enable further enhancement of the gallery’s environmental controls, had to be juggled into a well-planned sequence. Display walls, lighting and flooring were also refurbished throughout.

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Specialist subconsultants, including Arup Fire and Structures, were also directly appointed to fast track the process along with parallel work streams and teams within the RUFFarchitects studio.

The architect returned to some of the building’s original concepts, including clarity of volume and visitor orientation. To improve gallery circulation, it cut holes into the Barbican’s concrete structure.

The gallery reopened in May with a retrospective exhibition focusing on American artist Lee Krasner, which was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and ran until 1 September.

RUFFarchitects defeated a shortlist of firms to win the commission for the Barbican and City of London Corporation at the start of this year.

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Architect’s view

The Barbican Art Gallery acts as a medium and a canvas. It’s where curators and designers shape, model and distort the volume to best display globally renowned artworks. Our involvement in the alteration and refurbishment of the building fabric and services allows this to continue for the foreseeable future, in an upgraded and state-of-the-art facility. The delivery of the project was confined to a strict 12-week scheduling gap between three years of back-to-back high-profile exhibitions, where significant upgrade aspirations were jam-packed into a complex construction sequence.

The detailed and interwoven strategy for the upgrade work was presented at the Barbican and City of London Gateways, and subsequently as an indicative work schedule to tendering contractors. A joint and open procedure with the client and appointed contractor then allowed as much of the wider project aspirations to be delivered, in the available time frame, as possible.

Cutting substantial holes through the Barbican’s concrete structure to enhance gallery circulation and provide a 21st-century level of environmental parameters is a noisy business – we always tried our hardest not to disturb the rest of the arts venue or the 4,600 or so residents!

Having previously delivered Barbican projects under Alford Hall Monaghan Morris, returning to work in a building that has its own life – with the fascinating people that help deliver the widest of cultural offerings – was a pleasure. 

Paul Ruff, director, RUFFarchitects

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Project data

Start on site February 2019
Completion April 2019 
Client City of London Corporation
Architect RUFFarchitects
Construction cost £650,000
Fire engineer Arup
Structural engineer Arup
MEP services engineer Cundall
Quantity surveyor Exigere 

23. lee krasner living colour, barbican art gallery, 30 may 1 sept 2019, tristan fewings getty images (31)

Lee Krasner: Living Colour at the Barbican Art Gallery

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It would be helpful to understand what 'holes' were cut. As for impving circulation, sadly the barb hobbled that more or less permanently in the AHMM refurb brief by removing the lower portion of the CPB main staircase that originally ran in relaxed fashion down from the gallery through the library (both levels) and down to the waterside lobby.

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