Whitechapel Gallery  London, UK, 2009

© Richard Bryant

© Richard Bryant

© Richard Bryant

level 0

section

Program
Expansion of the Whitechapel Art Gallery

Client
The Trustees of the Whitechapel Art Gallery

Location
80-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QE Aldgate East
UK

Date
2007 - 2009

Status
completed

Floor surface
3.000 sqm

Architects
Robbrecht en Daem  architecten
in collaboration with Whiterford Watson Mann Architects

Collaborators
Kristoffel Boghaert
Gert Jansseune
Tinne Verwerft
Wouter Willems
Matthias Baeten
Miriam Koudmani
William Mann
Chris Watson
Joerg Maier
Henning Roeschmann
Daniela Büter

Artists
Rachel Whiteread
Rodney Graham

Structural Engineer
Price & Myers

Services Engeneer
Max Fordham LLP

Conservation Architect
Richard Griffiths Architects

Project Manager
Mott MacDonald

Quantity Surveyor
Davis Langdon

External Lighting
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'.