Bristol's Arnolfini arts centre reopened last weekend after a two-year programme of refurbishment and alterations by Snell Associates (with Susanna Heron as project artist). Following a £7.5 million National Lottery grant in 2001, the Arnolfini purchased Bush House - the 19th-century quayside warehouse it had part-occupied since 1975 - to expand its activities in the building while renting out the rest. There is little external change. Snell Associates' main moves are inside - improving orientation and circulation by opening up a three-storey central space off which all the galleries and other facilities (including an auditorium and a new 'dark studio') are reached. Referring to the palazzo-like look of the building, Robin Snell compares this new space to the central courtyard of many palazzi, though it is quite compressed, with the lift shaft the obvious focus. On the fi rst floor the central gallery is increased to double height, adding to the flexibility and spatial interest of the exhibition area, while the two flanking single-storey galleries both benefit from natural light. Snell has kept the concrete coffered ceilings from the 1970s interior - a wise decision, for the craggy 1830s sandstone exterior, the 1970s elements and the new insertions all harmonise, sharing a robust aesthetic. An exception is the new café, designed by Snell with artist Bruce McLean, which tries too hard to be 'vibrant'.
The centre has opened with an international group show, 'This Storm Is What We Call Progress'. Though some of the work is rewarding, the links between the featured artists are very tenuous and the portentous title, lifted from Walter Benjamin, speaks more of curatorial self-importance than discernment.