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Architect sought for £7.5m Gainsborough’s House revamp

Sudbury, Suffolk
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Gainsborough’s House, the birthplace and childhood home of artist Thomas Gainsborough, is recruiting an architect for a £7.5 million regeneration of the building in Sudbury, Suffolk, plus a new-build annexe

The winning team will create a new ‘vibrant and innovative national centre’ focusing on the artist’s life and works.

The project will revamp the Grade I-listed town house on Gainsborough Street (pictured) and deliver a new annexe next door featuring gallery spaces alongside a shop, café and improved entrance.

According to the contract notice: ‘Applications are invited from suitably qualified and experienced architects who wish to be considered for inclusion on a select list of tenderers to provide the highest standards of design, conservation and presentation.

‘The appointment will include design lead; contract administrator; and principal designer services.’

Born in 1727, Gainsborough spent his childhood in Sudbury before relocating to London to study painting aged 13. He founded the 18th-century British landscape school, and was recognised as the country’s leading painter during his life.

His parents, John and Mary Gainsborough, purchased the 16th-century building in 1722 for £230. The home was later used as a hotel and antiques shop before being transformed into a museum in 1961. 

The regeneration project will deliver new exhibition, display and learning spaces alongside a new café and an improved shop and entrance. Existing displays within Gainsborough’s House will also be adapted. The work is planned to complete in 2020.

The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £4.73 million towards the project along with a £280,700 development grant last month. ZMMA has already developed initial proposals for the new facility, which will also explore the wider history of Sudbury.

The deadline for applications is noon, 12 December.

How to apply

View the contract notice for more information

Contact details

Mark Bills
Director of Gainsborough’s House
Gainsborough’s House
46 Gainsborough Street
CO10 2EU

Tel: +44 01787372958
Email: mark@gainsborough.org

Q+A: Mark Bills, director of Gainsborough’s House

What is your vision for the new expanded museum and gallery?

The vision for the new scheme is to create a major new building of signature art galleries and redisplay Gainsborough’s House to emphasise the historic building and give a greater context for Thomas Gainsborough. It is envisaged the new building will provide a major three-level purpose built series of gallery spaces, comprising a major Gainsborough display gallery to show more of the museum’s collection and some of his greatest paintings from museum stores around the UK; an exhibition gallery that can deliver large-scale exhibitions; a landscape studio connecting the building with countryside that Gainsborough painted through panoramic viewing points and a camera obscura; and a community gallery for a vibrant, contemporary response to Gainsborough and Suffolk. The estimated cost of the capital works is expected to be in the order of £4.5 million.

What sort of challenges will the design team have to overcome?

The constraints for the new build is that it is in a conservation area in close proximity to the Grade I-listed Gainsborough’s House, and on a narrow residential street. The project includes the demolition of an old labour exchange. This has had a full heritage assessment, which concludes that a gallery is far more beneficial to the heritage than preserving the current building. Early consultations with the local planning authority and Historic England have shown them to be generally supportive of the development subject to seeing final plans. The town of Sudbury is hugely behind the project, which is seen as a very positive development for the community. The design will be important as to how it is received by residents and visitors alike. One important benefit of a new gallery building is to have the ability to show full-length Gainsboroughs, which the historic house does not currently allow.

What sort of architects are you hoping to work with?

The architects that we are looking for are those that are sympathetic to our vision and mission. Having an understanding of working with historic collections and museums is important. Given that it is an entirely new build, we would want an architect who is creative in achieving this. At the moment we do not have a fixed idea about who the architect might be, and will look at both emerging practices alongside those with more experience.

Are there any other recent museum expansion projects you have been impressed by?

There are so many good examples of architecture for museums that are very impressive and successful on a variety of scales. From a Gainsborough’s House perspective we would judge success in how they have continued to run in the future and how successfully they work as museums and galleries.


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