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FIRST LOOK

Manalo & White completes ‘fine-tuned’ conversion of garage into gallery

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This light-touch conversion of an 1890s London stable into the RODEO art gallery is designed to accentuate the historic interior

The gallerists were keen to avoid a bland or institutional-looking ‘white cube’ for this central London exhibition space, which is intentionally designed so that exhibiting artists respond to the material qualities of the space. 

As such, the light-touch approach to the existing fabric maintains much of the ad hoc character and embedded history of the space, which was built in the 1890s as a stable and later became a garage with the addition of a deep mechanic’s inspection pit. 

A cast-iron column, patterned wall tiling and angled drainage channels set into the grooved brick flooring remain from the original stabling layout of the mews, with any new elements intended to amplify these found qualities of the space. A new, fourth wall forms the exhibition space, its tinted mirror lining appearing to double the volume of the gallery.

A loose table and chairs act as a reception desk, meeting table and office for the gallerists. The 2m-deep mechanics’ pit has been lined out and fitted with cabinetry to provide discreet office storage.

Artists will exhibit simultaneously across RODEO’s two galleries – with this new space acting as a ‘satellite’ to the ‘home’ gallery: an ex-industrial space in the port city of Piraeus in Greece.

Rodeo 4 rear of gallery

Rodeo 4 rear of gallery

Architect’s view 

RODEO gallery represents a diverse, international roster of artists many of whom share a strong interest in context and sometimes very specific historic context. Our aim was to convert a garage into a gallery without diluting the charged and nuanced qualities of the original interior. Fine-tuning the space to a degree that maintained its character without any singular, overt expression was important.

We were introduced to Sylvia Kouvali and Katy Green of RODEO by a mutual friend. Through initial discussions we established a shared interest in the strong materiality of a found historic fabric. RODEO also responded to the way we’d previously worked with artists – by supporting their sensibilities without allowing the more prosaic concerns of the building process to inhibit them. Our approach here led to a collaborative design process with an engaged client about what makes the right setting for the successful reception of art.

We thought it important that you can’t read the presence of the architect’s hand. The artist Alan Kane once said to me that the only visible decisions inside a gallery should be those made by an artist. Most of the decisions made were about what not to do. The strong grain of the brickwork floor is pleasingly immediate when felt underfoot, and leaving it fully exposed permitted a level floor through to the cobbled street. The glossy, cracked wall tiling has been left in a state of disrepair, a quality that feels as valid a part of the space’s history as the mechanic’s pit.

Rodeo 11 mirrored wall

Rodeo 11 mirrored wall

Ceiling-mounted arrays of track and strip lighting are the cultural norm in contemporary art galleries, perhaps in some small part because they have come to signal ‘art gallery’. In the absence of any other gallery signifiers, like white walls and a concrete floor, RODEO was happy to resist that kind of allusion. They wanted to provide an environment that artists can respond to individually. Removing all fixed lighting means this can be designed specifically through discussion with each exhibiting artist. It enables them to adapt the feel of the space in an immediately responsive way and arguably gives greater flexibility than a predetermined set of lighting options. For the first show artist Shahryar Nashat has designed a simple, aluminium system that holds industrial light fittings on the floor, throwing light across the textured walls.

The ceiling was also an opportunity to intensify the found qualities of the space through gloss colour, tying it to the room. A level change halfway across the suspended ceiling is made with a length of curved, bespoke fibrous plaster coving which extends the slightly awkward, lumpen qualities of the existing plasterwork to the staircase of the apartment above.

We’ve used tinted mirror before to achieve different effects. At Focal Point Gallery in Southend we used dark, bronzed mirror to clad the side of a box-like room enclosure, and the result was that it seemed to dematerialise the box while still having a presence – a solid yet ghostly state. At RODEO the tinted mirror reflects the textured qualities of the space in a monochromatic way without introducing another texture that might distract. It defers to the original interior.

Stephen Beasley, project architect, Manalo & White

Rodeo 16 brickwork stable floor

Rodeo 16 brickwork stable floor

Client’s view 

Making a gallery nowadays I consider a very difficult thing. Because creating the right framework for artists and their work to inhabit is as important as the work in itself. This process has gone through so many different stages in our recent history. So much has been written, and history and positions have already made circles from the white cube, to industrial, to new architectural ventures to the use of domestic spaces. 

When we found the garage space on 12 Bourdon Street we were excited. History is very much something we deeply care for and London, like the rest of the world, tends to want to erase it, at least architecturally speaking. Working with Manalo & White was great because we share the same enthusiasm for details and passion for materials, and the whole team was extremely inspiring in delivering proposals and ideas that were not always obvious. 

We tuned into the same spirit very fast and all in all it has been a wonderful journey, with lots of detours that proved to be the right ones. Meeting on site as well as dealing with wonderfully made drawings via emails and thinking together was an unforgettable experience, and we are so happy Manalo & White was the team that made this very special space happen. 

Sylvia Kouvali, owner, RODEO

Floor plan

Floor plan

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site October 2019
Completion January 2020
Gross internal floor area 60m2
Form of contract Traditional
Construction cost per m2 £1,500
Client RODEO
Architect Manalo & White
Main contractor SW Bruce
Consulting structural engineer Structure Workshop
Lighting consultant DPA Lighting
Landlord’s architect GRA Architecture
Door ironmongery IZE
Ornamental fibrous plasterwork Hayles and Howe

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