GM Building of the Year shortlist: Whitworth Art Gallery

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Continuing the series running up to the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Building of the Year awards in November, Place North West looks at the six buildings vying for the title in 2015.

For the sake of fairness, on the outset of this review I should admit a personal bias when it comes to the Whitworth. Ahead of its reopening earlier this year, various press statements and marketing materials hyped up the £15m refurbishment, and I maintained a healthy level of scepticism. However, when it came to the Valentine’s Day launch, I really did “fall in love again”.

The internal revamp and the two extensions stretching out into Whitworth Park in Moss Side have completely revitalised the nineteenth century building. New windows and a glass promenade have created lines of sight across previously dark gallery rooms, emphasising the views into park and filling the gallery with natural light.

Architect MUMA’s obvious reverence for the building and its purpose is clear, and it’s the little details that stand out; brickwork patterns which imitate silk and cotton weaves seen in the Whitworth’s extensive textile collection, intimate art gardens, and an array of highly finished and visually-pleasing materials.

Everything that the Whitworth Art Gallery does is about community engagement. It is obvious that its access programme is not just a tick-box exercise; it takes its position within one of the most culturally-diverse but deprived wards in the country very seriously. The design is intended to reduce “threshold anxiety”, allowing for park to art in one easy step, and the ground floor uses are all given over to access, learning and events.

Few could be a more enthusiastic advocate for the Whitworth than Nicola Walker, head of collections care and access, who despite 20 years on the job maintains that working at the gallery “is heaven. Every day is a joy”. Whether you’re an art lover, building lover, plant lover or food lover, the Whitworth does have something for everyone, and with a potential Stirling Prize win also in its sights next week, is a serious contender for the Building of the Year title as well.

  • The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce will announce the Building of the Year at its annual property and construction dinner on 12 November
  • The judging panel consists of Joss Underwood of the Chamber of Commerce, Steve Burne of AEW Architects, Phil Cusack of Capita, Jill Bancroft of Brown & Bancroft, Nancy McGuire of Addleshaw Goddard, Liz Everett of Seddon, David Williams of Turner & Townsend, Steve Williamson of F Parkinson, Graham Wilson of Park Wilson Consulting, Ian Powell of Pinington, John Marland of Bruntwood, Karen Hirst of Salford City Council, Stewart Grant of Grant Associates, John Atkins of Atkins Property and Peter McDermott of Salford City Council

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