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Cafe in the treetops: the Whitworth winner announced

Jonathan Schofield gets the exclusive nod from the Director about the winning Whitworth proposal

Written by . Published on November 9th 2009.

Cafe in the treetops: the Whitworth winner announced

Maria Balshaw, the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, called on Friday to give Confidential the exclusive results of the architectural competition the Gallery’s been running.

“We thought the MUMA entry would be the most fitting and inspirational too. Everyone thought it was the most beautiful statement with, for instance, a cafe almost floating in the tree tops of the park.

There were five entries from a wide range of practices to deliver extension plans for the Whitworth, as discussed on Confidential last month (click here).

We loved the Amanda Levete designs partly because they were full of fantasy, their buried underground nature delivering the ‘thrill factor’. But we did say that: ‘The most exciting designs don’t always win competitions, nor should they. Sometimes for sound principles of functionality a design becomes unbuildable. A new structure has to be, as the cliché goes, ‘fit for purpose.’

This has turned out to be the case.

Balshaw said of the Levete entry: “It was very clear that this was a concept proposal. It looked wonderful on the model but it would have compromised the beauty of the park, with the loss of a great number of trees, and part of the brief was to make the gallery work with the park not deliver a big concrete imposition.”

So the winner is MUMA (McInnes, Usher, McKnight Architects).

They’ve got gallery pedigree. They recently completed the extension and refurbishment of the Newlyn Art Gallery and the conversion of a redundant telephone exchange in Penzance, into ‘The Exchange’, a new contemporary art gallery, plus the re-design of the restaurant at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the new restaurant and café for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Currently MUMA’s foremost public project is the new £30m Medieval & Renaissance Galleries for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London which opens 2 December 2009.

Have a look at the pics on this page to see what you think. This is what Balshaw said of the design.

“We thought the MUMA entry would be the most fitting and inspirational too. Everyone thought it was the most beautiful statement with, for instance, a cafe almost floating in the tree tops of the park. And a design which cleverly doesn’t harm a single tree. At the same time the architects themselves demonstrated a real enthusiasm for the Whitworth. They’d fallen in love with it.

“The result is we’ll have a landscape gallery in the centre of the rebuild which works with the environment outside plus learning studios, a courtyard sculpture garden and a lot more exhibition space. Parts of the older areas of the building will be revealed including a grand nineteenth century staircase, while an impressive barrel-vaulted hall will be restored into a beautiful public lecture theatre for launches, commercial events and so on.”

So what comes next in getting the thing built?

“MUMA have to work up all the details down to the door handles by next September,” said Balshaw. “Then it goes back to the Heritage Lottery Fund and depending on their decision – and we’re very hopeful, we have our side of the funding in place for instance - we break ground in Spring 2011.”

Confidential likes the MUMA design although we were perhaps blinded to its solid reality-bound virtues by the flight of fancy that was Amanda Levete’s.

Still MUMA’s proposals, if Balshaw’s aspirations are fulfilled, will at best produce an uplifting, dramatic enhancement of the Whitworth Art Gallery cementing its place near the top of the tree (and in the trees) when it comes to Northern art galleries. At worst it will provide a good looking and efficient extension to what is already an immensely attractive gallery.

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Eddy RheadNovember 9th 2009.

A good choice. Seems to be, on paper at least, a beautiful but practical use of space. Lets just hope the HLF are able to spread the love (and the cash).

AnonymousNovember 9th 2009.

Dear Editorial Apologies... I missed your wisdom but I agree the one you voted for was the one which did solve my problem by going disappearing underground. The plans are still on show. We might mention that the glittering wallpaper and indian carpets which are currently on show are pretty good and you can be bored by the BM's American Prints (but Jackson Pollock drips as a print.. wow) But MC does not do art.

AnonymousNovember 9th 2009.

None of the designs (which I am surprised ManCon has not discussed before since The Whitworth is an important Manchester institution) link the park to the Gallery rather than the Gallery to the park.A landscape gallery was not so far as recall part of the spec and may not happen. Perhaps excessive attention is given to the cafe.... but unlike the present one, you will have to find it, before you can step out into the park. or maybe you step into it and not visit the gallery.... recall the V&A slogan Actually I go to a gallery to enjoy works of art and talk about works of art and maybe to study. It iss odd that the schools of architecture in the Universities did not organise a parallel competition for their students. Maybe Man Con could have offered a lolly pop or two for prizes.

EditorialNovember 9th 2009.

We covered all the entries and described our favourite back when they were released in late September/early October. Click on the link in the story above my dear anonymous.

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