Cost-effective Transformation: The Photographers’ Gallery in London
Text: Emilia Margaretha
The Photographers’ Gallery’s key objectives have been to secure the future of the organisation by acquiring a new home in central London, which would allow provision of excellent facilities to fully explore the use of photography in all its forms and to engage the widest possible audience.
Architects: O'Donnell + Tuomey, Dublin
Location: 16 - 18 Ramillies St., London W1F 7LW
The Gallery is located at a crossroads, between Soho and Oxford Street. The corner site is visible in a glimpse view through the continuous shop frontage of Oxford Street. Ramillies Street is approached down a short flight of steps, leading to a quieter world behind the scenes of London life, a laneway with warehouses and backstage delivery doors.
The building responds to the client’s brief by rationally distributing elements vertically. The existing stairwell is retained, and a generous lift is provided adjacent to this which disturbs the fabric of the existing building as little as possible. The building’s legibility is enhanced by the close pairing of this stair and lift, as well as by the clear allocation of single functions on each floor. Larger gallery spaces are located on the upper two floors, within the proposed extension, while the more intimate close control gallery is located within the fabric of the existing building.
The specific characteristics of the design – a deep cut in ground floor facade to reveal the cafe and an opening up of the ground floor slab to a cavernous lower level bookshop, east-facing picture window of the surrounding rooftops, periscope north-light picture window on the city skyline – are the carefully considered consequences of the architects’ understanding of the specific context of this site. A lively environment and meeting place at street level is created.
The brick-warehouse steel-frame building is extended to minimise the increase in load on the existing structure and foundations. Due to the requirement for clear high spaces for the galleries a steel frame construction has been developed which works with the existing building structure and provides column free exhibition spaces.
Construction works from September 2010 until May 2012:
The applied rendered surface breakes plane to step forward from the face of the existing brickwork and the windows are detailed to appear to “slide” into the wall thickness. An anthracite colour is chosen for the self coloured render finish. This compliments the brickwork which has been left exposed and the natural hardwood timber framed elements which will in time weather to a silvery gray colour. The dark cladding is appropriate to the language of the photograph, photographic aparatus and the branding of The Photographers’ Gallery. The proposed building contains subtle formal references to the black and white image, with carefully designed picture windows, seen as apertures to the urban fabric.
In counterpoint to the cladding, the glazed screens in the elevation are assembled from solid sections of untreated hardwood. The careful composition of the screens and the detailing of the openings give a “crafted” character to the facade. These framed openings and screens are read against the more introverted volumes of the upper level galleries, presented within the thickness of the self coloured render cladding. At ground level, sculpted terrazzo elements navigate the threshold between the street and the building interior, providing a hard-wearing robust and attractive finish. The architectural intention of this element is to provide a social face to the Gallery, with cafe patrons facing out to the street. The terrazzo shop front creates a visual line leading around the corner towards the hardwood “picture frame” entrance.