Manchester’s whitworth gallery reopens

Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery (WAG), home to one of the UK’s premium art and design collections, has reopened following an extensive reconfiguration under a ‘slow conservation’ strategy.

Over time the gallery building had evolved into a complex, confused and inefficient series of interconnected spaces. The building services systems had also gone through a number of additions and extensions and the original ventilation and lighting strategies had been compromised and covered up.

International engineering practice Buro Happold completed a thorough investigation of the existing buildings and systems, the conservation standards that could be achieved without active humidification or cooling and the low and zero carbon technologies that could be integrated into the project. The reconfiguration of the 21st Century Gallery in the Park was supported by Heritage Lottery funding which set a strict funding target of an overall ten percent carbon reduction for the project. The practice then used this to map the existing installations in order to understand what needed to be replaced, what could be retained and what could be rediscovered from the original design. A new building services infrastructure was integrated into the existing building and connects the new with the old as one system.

The sustainability strategy met the challenges of increasing the building area by over 30% whilst at the same time reducing the overall carbon footprint by the stipulated 10%. The ‘slow conservation’ strategy cleverly uses the landscape and buildings to shelter the gallery and collection stores; not only ensuring visitor comfort but also preserving and protecting the artwork. The building fabric has been greatly improved for insulation, air tightness, and solar control by using the new construction to wrap the old.

Stephen Jolly, partner at Buro Happold and project principle for WAG: “As far as we are aware the WAG exhibition galleries represent the first time that a passive approach has been taken to the environmental control of temporary exhibition galleries. MUMA and Buro Happold have worked very closely with the gallery’s curators to develop a strategy that takes advantage of the fabric of the building and the Manchester climate and that does not use cooling or air conditioning to maintain the required conditions. The curation strategy is part of the environmental control system and exhibits will be chosen to suit the seasonal conditions and the configuration of the gallery.”

The new collection storage areas, at lower ground floor level, replaced the old, inefficient air conditioning system with passive design techniques to reduce energy use. The environmental conditions can be controlled and adjusted through conservation heating using ground source heat pumps and natural ventilation.

The recent refurbishment and new build extension, coupled with long term maintenance improvements, has create a new visitor experience fit for the 21st century. The completed works have doubled the publicly accessible area, improved circulation and include a new landscape gallery, exhibition galleries, collection stores and café. These changes have revealed the original interiors and enabled a return to daylight and natural ventilation.

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