Whitechapel Gallery London, UK, 2009
Expansion of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
The Trustees of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
80-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QE Aldgate East
2007 - 2009
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
in collaboration with Whiterford Watson Mann Architects
Price & Myers
Max Fordham LLP
Richard Griffiths Architects
Jason Bruges Studio
By William Mann
In the best museums and galleries one finds one's way through a series of rooms, where the artefacts are carefully lit and set off by calm backgrounds. A degree of repetition helps navigation, some variation helps orientation.
The proposals for the Whitechapel Art Gallery are bold in their restraint (someone commented: 'where’s the architecture?') and seize a simple but powerful opportunity: lower and upper floors are configured as circuits of rooms, with the stylistically different but volumetrically similar existing galleries linked up by smaller, more domestically scaled gallery spaces. The subtle rhythms and contrasts of the rooms form the backdrop to the wide variety of work on display (historic and contemporary art, room sized sculptures and miniatures).
This project involves the unification of the Whitechapel Public Library and Whitechapel Art Gallery buildings, both dating from the late nineteenth-century period of philanthropic works in the East End, and the adaptation of the library for gallery use. With a strong emphasis on education and community engagement, the project to re-unite the buildings continues the original ideals.
Offering flexibility of use as well as contemporary standards of access, the galleries are served by a single, unified circulation core, with the lift on the party wall between two buildings and a new stair beside the existing nineteenth century library stair.
The former ground floor library reading room and first floor museum, used as gallery spaces – for installations and visiting collections respectively – retaining as much as possible of their historic and ‘worn’ character. Daylight is introduced into the ground floor gallery by new rooflights and controlled on the first floor through external louvres. The new link galleries at first floor level offer glimpses out to the surrounding area, forming small breaks in the light, content and context of the otherwise utterly focused visual theatre. A new streetfront cafe and archive space make use of existing rooms of character. In the upper levels of the library building, new education studios have been created, with a clear span, north-lit studio on the top floor taking advantage of views out over the 'City Fringe'.