This project, won in competition, was to refurbish and reconfigure a Grade II* Listed Building to better serve its purpose. The project, now completed, involved completely renewing the huge, glazed lanterns that light the galleries, opening up the public areas to be more accessible to wide range of users and the reconfiguration of the shop and café to be more operationally efficient and meet market expectations. Most challenging was the addition of a very large hydraulic lift to the outside of the building to take both large visitor groups and artwork.

The design team, led by Childs Sulzmann Architects included Hydrock for Structural and civil engineering and building services, and QODA for the MEP.

The RWA is a very fine building in an extremely public location. The classical façade of bath stone is impressive and the entrance areas are lined with marble under a mosaic dome. The constraints of this fine building, however, make running the building as a modern art gallery extremely challenging.

Our task was to assemble a suitably experienced team, understand our clients ambitions and to find appropriate ways in which the historic fabric could be altered to meet the demands of environmentally controlled galleries, a viable commercial offer and access for all.

The entire entrance sequence has been redesigned to be more welcoming, more open, and more accessible. The landscaped forecourt and external lift shaft provide improved access to the building, a greater sense of public space, and a clearer visible and physical link between the galleries and the street. A series of new glazed doors along the front of the building create an improved sense of flow into the building, drawing people towards the newly refurbished reception and expanded café.

For the RWA project we were closely involved with the HLF process from the start – we were responsible for writing critical sections of the initial bid and were involved in all the interviews with the NLHLF, supporting and guiding our client at every stage. From this and previous projects we have a deep understanding of the phased bid process and the importance of compliance with the clear protocols at each phase of the bid. Following success in the first round, we worked closely with our client to develop the Round 2 Bid which was inevitably successful.

The RWA project was fundamentally about improving access and attracting wider and, crucially, more diverse audiences. All physical aspects of access were analysed and incorporated into a refined brief for the project, including provision for all kinds of disability. We worked with a nationally respected access consultant, an expert in the cultural field (from whom we learnt a great deal) to ensure that all recognisable / identifiable issues were addressed.

Equally important, was our understanding of the cultural, social, and psychological barriers to access to such illustrious institutions. From our previous experience in the wider cultural environments and designing for galleries, the media and creative entrepreneurial spaces, we offered a deep and evidenced understanding of how to break down perceived barriers and create an open and accessible environment for as wide a public as possible. These issues are complex and subtle but solutions are critical to the long term success of the project.

Photography by Fotohaus and Story Photography