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Stirling Prize: ‘Our aim was to make an exotic and vital place in which to experience art’

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Peter St John describes how Newport Street Gallery’s simple, bare public spaces called for complex engineering solutions

PLANS • SECTIONS • MATERIALS • PROJECT DATA

The gallery at Newport Street has been made to show Damien Hirst’s extensive collection of contemporary art. The building opened in October 2015, and has so far shown single-artist shows of John Hoyland and Jeff Koons. The gallery is open to the public for free.

The project involved first the conversion of an extraordinary terrace of listed industrial buildings that were formerly theatre carpentry and scenery painting workshops. More recently the buildings had been used by the artist as studios. The design could not, however, be described as a restoration of the listed buildings, nor are there really many parallels with the ‘found’ industrial spaces in which artists in London used to install shows in the 1990s. Here, the original buildings were singular, vast interiors, whose proportions were too high and unsuitable as galleries. And the requirements of contemporary art spaces suitable for all forms of art (paintings, sculpture, film, new media and so on), requiring stable environmental conditions and including very large and very heavy works, also dictated that the gallery interiors be highly engineered and serviced. Instead, the existing buildings have been considerably altered and then added to, in order to make a more complex whole, whose energy emerges from the existing parts while being much greater than what was there before. The aim was to make an exotic and vital place in which to experience art.

The gallery forms the whole length of the street, with the three listed Victorian buildings flanked at either end by new buildings. The buildings are joined internally, and a new upper floor level has been constructed, dividing the existing buildings into two gallery levels. The galleries on the ground floor are 8m high and have clerestory lighting. The galleries on the upper floor are 4.5m-7m high and have rooflighting.

The two gallery levels are connected by three large spiral staircases, all of which are different. The stairs make the building feel like a public building and not just an industrial conversion. Their generosity is necessary to make the upper floor feel as important as the ground floor. The stair spaces have been built in a white engineering brick, giving the building the tectonic quality of brick construction that had to be extensively concealed in the gallery spaces. The care and sophistication of this construction recalls the solid material quality of a Victorian board school or an Edwardian town hall. Contemporary technology, such as was required in the modelling of the special castings of the precast handrails, and in the digital carving of the timber balustrading, has allowed a level of formal variety and quality that has only recently been made feasible again.

Considerable effort goes into the design of gallery spaces, largely unnoticed. The effort is in controlling systems of servicing, lighting, security, fire safety and art handling logistics so that the art space is a luxurious and bare scene for the art work. The gallery spaces are all different, but their consistent details and the clear way that they are all connected means that they work well as a suite.

The façade begins with the three existing buildings, with their very unusual proportions and blank upper walls, and then adds to them to make the building even more exuberant. It is ambiguous which parts are new and which are old, and it is not intended to matter much. Half-way along the façade is a big LED screen in the former position of a theatre poster site which shows films and advertises the exhibitions to passing commuters.

Basement plan

Drawings caruso basement

Drawings caruso basement

Ground floor plan

Drawings caruso ground

Drawings caruso ground

First floor plan

Drawings caruso first

Drawings caruso first

Second floor plan

Drawings caruso second

Drawings caruso second

Roof section

Drawings caruso roof section

Drawings caruso roof section

Stair section

Drawings caruso stair section

Drawings caruso stair section

Wall detail

Drawings caruso wall detail

Drawings caruso wall detail

The materials we used

Carusomaterialsboard

Carusomaterialsboard

Source: Ståle Eriksen

Materials board

  1. Zinc rainscreen cladding
  2. Glass block cast in to third floor precast concrete balcony slab
  3. External powder coated metal doors and window frames; IGP-DURA face 581M, Eisenglimmer Matt
  4. External precast concrete
  5. New external bricks type 1 – Newport Street ‘light mix’
  6. New external bricks type 2 – Newport Street ‘dark mix’ (plinth)
  7. Stainless steel security shutters
  8. External clay pavers
  9. Painted triboard to stair balustrades
  10. Powder coated internal steel doors
  11. Internal concrete floor
  12. Oak floor to stairs
  13. Painted oak handrail section to stairs
  14. Internal bricks to stairs
  15. Gallery floodlight fitting
  16. External glass to buildings No1 and No9

 

Project data

Start on site August 2012
Completion June 2015
Gross internal floor area 3,500m²
Form of contract SBC/XQ 2011 – Standard Building Contract without Quantities 2011
Architect Caruso St John 
Client Science 
Structural engineer Alan Baxter and Associates
Services consultant Max Fordham 
Cost consultant Jackson Coles
Project manager Jackson Coles
CDM co-ordinator Jackson Coles
Approved building inspector BRCS
Access consultant David Bonnett Associates
Main contractor Walter Lilly 

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