David Chipperfield Architects’ The Hepworth Wakefield
Wakefield, North Yorkshire
For so many years overshadowed by her contemporary, friend and fellow sculptor, Henry Moore – also from this neck of the wood – it is only just and fitting that Barbara Hepworth has at last been honoured with an eponymously-named gallery in her home town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Previously, to see a decent-sized body of her oevre, it was necessary to trek all the way down to the little stone house in St Ives, Cornwall, where for much of her life she lived and worked, building a workshop at the rear and arranging favourite pieces in the modest walled garden. (See The Blog, Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted, Friday, April 9th, 2010).
I had seen versions of 2011 RIBA prizewinners Chipperfield Architects’ proposals for the gallery building in maquette form at his formidable David Chipperfield Form Matters exhibition at London’s Design Museum in 2009. What resembled a modest settlement that might have grown organically over a period of time – built as dwellings or for related functional reasons – of blocky buildings with slanted rooves on the bank of a fast-flowing river that lapped against its foundations, the design of which had been rendered in thin, pale cream card and in pale wood. I was impressed and could not wait to see the finished thing.
Wakefield is trying hard to attract visitors. The new gallery is part of the same initiative as the newly-pedestrianised shopping areas and the once grey tower blocks now capped with ridged rooves and painted in jolly colours. I had not been before and found it a busy, optimistic and bustling town.
Even though, having done my homework, I knew already what to expect, it was quite a shock to be confronted by the flat, mid-grey gallery building, its blocky appearance broken only by the blurry joints of the concrete blocks used inits construction and the insertion of what at first sight appear as randomly-sized and randomly-positioned, black-framed, rectangular windows. The lightness, freshness and optimism of the maquettes is replaced by a brooding, uncompromisingly angular mass of tinted concrete which nods more than a little to the great Japanese minimalist architect, Tadao Ando. The weeping willows along the river bank might well weep. The saving grace, however, is Chipperfield’s elegant pedestrian bridge – which, presumably, because the gallery’s parking space is extremely limited, most visitors are expected to use as access – that stretches from the north side of the river over a gaggle of gaily painted boats to the gallery’s main entrance. Only from this aspect, despite its dour hue, the building beckons and looks approachable.
Inside it is almost a completely different story. The tall walls and ceilings of the gallery spaces are painted white. They flow easily into one another. Hepworth’s sculptures and the city’s collection of paintings are carefully sited to make good use of the natural light that enters via cleverly-designed slits at the edges of the ceilings. As well as bringing light inside the floor deep windows justify their positions by drawing visitors toward them – there is even a bench built into a grey felt-covered niche facing one of them that visitors queue to use.
The majority of Barbara Hepworth’s work can be described as curvy, organic and sensual. On leaving, I found myself wondering what she might have thought about David Chipperfield’s choice of colour and materials for the exterior of this building.
All photographs © Pedro Silmon, 2011. You can see more of my architecture, interior and garden photography at Arcaid Images
Have you been to see The Hepworth Wakefield?
What do you think of it?
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