Whitworth gets loved up on Valentine's Day

Maria Balshaw
Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth in Manchester Johnnie Shadd Kydd
Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth in Manchester, explains why this Valentine’s Day will have particular significance for her and her team.

In just a few days we re-open our doors to the public following our £15m development. This key moment follows the largest physical transformation in the Whitworth’s 125-year history. We have created a destination building with access to our internationally important collections at its heart, and which allows us to offer a huge range of new opportunities for people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, to engage with art of the highest quality.  

Our hotly-anticipated re-opening has already been reviewed across the world’s press – from the NY Times to a four-page cover feature in Observer Review. Architectural critics have praised the expanded building’s elegance and thoughtfulness and highlighted how our pioneering approach to sustainability has changed international museum practice.

The new building finally realises the Whitworth’s potential as a gallery in a park. MUMA (McInnes, Usher, McKnight Architects), have created a beautiful yet practical gallery with 100% more public space to accommodate larger audiences (we’ve seen them grow by 120% since 2007) and more extensive exhibitions. There are new spaces for all types of activity – from up-close object study to messy workshops for families.

At the heart of the transformed building is an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension, with two wings extending into Whitworth Park. Between these sits an Art Garden, designed by Chelsea Gold Medal winner Sarah Price, an outdoor gallery for large-scale sculpture and with space for activities, overlooked by a first-floor glass promenade gallery, joining the two wings. The linear glass and steel café offers one of the most beautiful locations in the city to enjoy a cup of tea.

[quote=Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth in Manchester]The new building finally realises the Whitworth’s potential as a gallery in a park[/quote]Four huge gallery spaces – three extensively refurbished, revealing 19th century barrel vault ceilings, and one completely new – are visible from outside, enticing in people passing through the park. These galleries allow us to show more of our collection and create more ambitious exhibitions. The opening programme includes major shows by Cornelia Parker and Cai Guo-Qiang, which would previously have been impossible, given their scale and ambition.

Access to our collection of over 55,000 works is central to the project. We’ve created a new environmentally sustainable collection store and public Collections Centre. Visitors can drop in to see anything from our collections, assisted by curators and volunteers. A large, light-filled Study Centre offers space for groups, adult learning programmes and individual research.

An innovative approach to carbon reduction has included the installation of ground source heat tubes under the Art Garden, extensive use of reclaimed materials in the outdoor landscaped areas and passive air control which replaces all our air conditioning.  Despite a 30% increase in the building’s footprint and 100% more space accessible to the public, we will achieve 10% carbon reduction and BREEAM Excellent rating.

All of this would not have been possible without support from HLF whose £8.5m grant is at the core of the project budget. We fundraised during the most difficult financial circumstances for a generation, but HLF’s commitment reassured a number of other funders – 19 others to be exact –  that this was an important project which deserved their investment. Although we have created an internationally important cultural destination and expect visitors from far and wide, we have also created a world-class gallery for our local community. Situated adjacent to areas of the city that experience some of the highest levels of deprivation and unemployment, we have in the words of Hugh Pearman (Sunday Times), created: “a great new public facility that deserves to command respect from its community”. We have no doubt that it will.

The Whitworth opens to the public on Saturday 14 February. Join us for a first view of the new gallery and a weekend of exciting activities.

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