The Hepworth Wakefield
Reasons to go to Wakefield just got bigger! We have the pleasure of introducing guest blogger James Butterworth of Architects Studio J in Leeds who is a bit of a fanboy!
A week or so back myself, along with other members of The Leeds Society of Architects, were privileged to get a sneak preview tour around the new Hepworth Art Gallery in Wakefield that is due to open to the public next May. I have been waiting for many years for this building to be completed and was eager to see if it lived up to expectations. Our tour was given by Natalie Walton who is Head of Learning at the gallery.
The key question often asked about contemporary art galleries is; will the building over shadow the art it is exhibiting or will it compliment it allowing each to express itself without detracting from the other? Personally, I think The Hepworth at Wakefield has got the balance just right.
The building appears unfussy and simply put together, a series of asymmetrical concrete cubes with large picture windows. Achieving this simplicity is not easy and with a price tag of £34.2 million it is not cheap either!
The concrete walls have been perfectly cast with beautiful clean lines and perfect neat junctions, the builders deserve a lot of credit here as this is not easy, especially as part of the building rises out of the adjacent river Calder.
If the outside doesn’t convince you, on entering the building you immediately know you are witnessing a first-rate piece of architecture. There are generous spaces and quality finishes throughout, delivering everything you would expect from an international level art gallery. It is the largest purpose built art gallery in the UK outside of London, and the building was originally meant to be 10% bigger.
With shop, cafe, offices and storage on the ground floor the 10 gallery spaces are arranged on a circular route on the first floor. There are 2 main aspects that struck me about the gallery spaces. The first being the large picture windows throughout. These are positioned to give views of significant surrounding landmarks such as Wakefield Cathedral, Emley Mast and the unique Chantry Chapel (for those who don’t know of this it is just over the road from the gallery and is well worth a look if you are in the area).
The second point of note is that there are very few right angles in this building! I found this made unique and interesting spaces, however I expect it will provide challenges for the curators trying to find the best way to exhibit the work.
I would love to show you photos of the inside of the building but the Architect, David Chipperfield has, disappointingly, banned any internal photography.
One of the gallery spaces is already set up ready for the public. For any Hepworth fan this is a real treat. The artwork has been called “The Gift” and is curated by her granddaughter Sophie Bowness. This is a collection of 40 prototype pieces hand crafted by Hepworth herself. It is possible to write much more about the art work that will be exhibited but that is for another time.
This building is a real jewel for Wakefield providing a lasting future to an area of the city that has been long forgotten and hopefully being the catalyst for further development of this previous industrial waterfront. I’m sure there will be a lot of local people who will not like the look of this building, questioning why so much money was spent on it and maybe they have a point? Personally I like the building and will be going back again as soon as it opens.