Recipient of the RIBA Award 2007, the new Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art gallery building and adjoining Public Square are part of the redevelopment of the town centre in Middlesbrough, in the UK, a community of approximately 150,000 inhabitants in the North East of England, serving as commercial and cultural centre for an area of about 650,000 people.
With the aim to create ‘economic success and cultural diversity’ Middlesbrough’s redevelopment focused on the attraction of leisure and retail facilities, the redesign of major streets and, as a key project, the redevelopment of Middlesbrough’s central Victoria Square, including the new art gallery.
All photographs © Christian Richters
The Institute of Modern Art was won in 2002 by (EEA) Erick van Egeraat associated architects through an international competition, the public square has been designed in conjunction with Dutch landscape architects 'West 8'.
The winning design for the Institute of Modern Art presents an ideas and architectural approach to the master plan of a central site, including the location of the gallery and its relationship to the proposed square and other existing civic buildings.
The architecture of the project is defined by a single public open space, clearly identifiable with distinct areas, that encourages active use, strengthens connections with the surrounding streets and supports pedestrian movement throughout the town centre.
The new art gallery is located on the south side of the Square and represents the first phase of implementing a coherent and vibrant new cultural quarter with public activities. The new gallery houses Middlesbrough’s collection of modern arts and crafts as well as temporary exhibitions on approximately 4.000 m2 of gallery space, furthermore a café, restaurant, shop and education spaces.
The building itself is separated into two distinct building parts reflecting the public and support functions inside, with the exhibition space overlapping the two and the public foyer linking them together. The form and materials of the building express this duality of the architecture, while respecting the scale and material of the surrounding buildings.
The public spaces directly face the square with the education and entertainment areas taking advantage of the views. This public side of the building, including main entrance to foyer, café and shop is spacious, open and inviting and enables easy access to the gallery.
The creation of a layered, transparent façade enhances the openness and the visual connections between the square, the town and the gallery’s interior thus optimising the relationship between the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and the revitalised public and cultural quarter of Middlesbrough.
RIBA Jury Comments
Upon discerning the award, the RIBA jury had the following comments.
"The original brief stated: “The creation of a new Art Gallery and Public Square for Middlesborough lies at the heart of our proposal to revitalise the main urban centre in the Tees Valley. Excellence and access are the twin values which will add to the continued regeneration of Middlesborough and reshape perceptions of the town.”
This ambition of the city has been worked out on two levels. Firstly, the siting of the gallery was changed from the original site to step back and allow the park/square to connect to a housing area to the east of the city.
The gallery then acts as a draw across the square which did appear to generate pedestrian movement across the square and begin to make a cohesive piece of the city.
Secondly, familiar uses of shop and cafe have been placed at the front of the building and again did appear to draw users into the building.
The ‘shop’ window, white limestone and scale of the building did work extremely well in this city context. The one small criticism of this is that the service yard/car parking has to then face onto a residential street and more money could have been spent on the limestone here.
The layout and circulation of the building are extremely legible. The ‘grand stair’ rises through the four floors of the building and is enjoyable to use. The artificially lit (part of the brief) galleries are set in the centre of the building with service accommodation wrapped around them.
Users were enjoying the building and the staff were clearly delighted with their new facilities. The building has certainly opened up the potential for different exhibitions and uses, and the storage facilities now allow the permanent collection to be properly stored. The environmental control of the building reaches international standards and further enhances the possiblities for shows etc.
The building is well detailed throughout and what appears to be elaborate detailing is quite calming in reality. The white limestone is very soft and gives a humane texture to the public space.
Altogether it is very elegant and enjoyable building which reconciles the urban aspirations of Middlesborough with the need for a quality carefully crafted gallery"