Whitworth Art Gallery

Manchester, UK


The Whitworth was created in 1889 as a cultural venue to inspire a taste in fine arts, and it is now home to one of the UK’s finest art and design collections. With over 50,000 objects, the gallery specialises in works on paper, wallpapers and flat textiles.

The most recent refurbishment and new-build extension, designed by MUMA Architects, has created a new experience for visitors and transformed it into a new 21st century gallery in the park. The completed works include a new landscape gallery, exhibition galleries, collections store and café.


Part of the engineering challenge was to reduce the overall carbon footprint by 10% despite the building area increasing by over 30%. It was important to preserve the building’s architectural heritage and this meant delivering a cutting edge environmental strategy almost invisibly, with maximum aesthetic sensitivity.

The client’s and architect’s ambition was not simply to extend the art gallery, but also to underline its connection to the park, local community and the university.

Wrapping the new building around the old improved insulation and solar control, providing optimum interior conditions for both visitors and artwork: Alan Williams

Buro Happold has delivered a quality integrated engineering design for the project. The challenge has been to coordinate the various aspects of design across multiple offices. They have demonstrated a good understanding of our project brief and translated that into an innovative design that took account a challenging multi auditoria brief.

Fran Toms, Head of Culture, Manchester City Council


A ‘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.

The new café extension is a pavilion in the park. Solar shading is provided by mirrored dots printed onto the glass which also work to reflect the park from the outside, integrating it into the landscape. These fade out towards the bottom to give a clear view from inside to out.

The new collection storage areas, at lower ground floor level, see the inefficient air conditioning system replaced 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.

Using passive and alternative energy strategies, we increased the gallery’s size by 30% while reducing its carbon footprint by 10%. Image: Alan Williams


The project is an exemplar of passive and alternative energy design techniques and is set to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.

It is part of the Whitworth’s mission that this pioneering approach to conservation can be replicated globally, taking art to cultural venues and countries that might find conventional climate control too costly. It is one of the most significant achievements of the Whitworth Art Gallery’s refurbishment, and it is one you won’t be able to see.

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