The brief for this modestly scaled building is at first glance incredibly simple; it’s a storage shed for an artwork. Though through its journey from inception to completion the architects have had to consider, among other things, construction logistics, art conservation, security, historic landscape, contemporary art, cultural memory, visitor experience, interpretation, sustainability and tectonic rigour and finally creating a noble and fitting setting for a sublime artwork.
The tiny temporary building just a few square metres in area is a new dedicated gallery within the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, for the work ‘Seizure’ by Roger Hiorns.
Originally a site-specific Artangel project, commissioned and executed in 2008 in a redundant south London housing estate, the artist filled an entire flat with copper-sulphate solution, growing a thick crust of glittering blue crystals on all its internal surfaces. The work was a cult success, with long queues of visitors and a significant online presence eliciting vivid and varying interpretations from viewers and critics.
Later, prior to the demolition of the estate the artwork was carefully extricated from its original host building and transported to Yorkshire – a considerable achievement given its size and 30-tonne weight. The new owner, Arts Council Collection, then held a competition to find an architect for the gallery, to be hosted temporarily by YSP.
An approximate location was selected and the building was to be demountable, low-cost and offer a suitable micro-climate for preservation of the crystals. Invigilator comfort and visitor experience were key aspects of the building’s functions. The new gallery is situated at the threshold between park and service yard and is a re-interpretation of the local precedent of an inhabited garden wall. The provisional nature of the site along with a contemporary ‘as-found’ construction system lends this building an infrastructural quality. These quiet characteristics are undercut with instability: the building can be demounted and this is clearly articulated.
Each detail and design choice is ruthlessly practical and charged with meaning: the sequence of thresholds allows adjustment to the darkness but clearly rehearses ideas of grotto, maze and labyrinth. The shimmed gaps between wall panels allow the natural ventilation necessary to maintain the crystals but produce a dramatic low light and a heightened acoustic awareness of the surroundings. The pre-cast concrete is at once raw, expedient and carefully refined.
The gallery was constructed between February and June 2013 on a traditional JCT contract for a sum of £148,000. Prefabrication allowed a fast build and the potential to relocate the gallery in the future.
Installation and removal of the artwork were carefully considered, including detailed crane layouts. The one-piece removable roof echoes the steel cage of the work situated below; it offers a mute sculptural cap and gives fail-safe protection from water ingress – the principal threat to the crystals’ longevity.
The gallery offers level access and the opportunity for visitors with limited mobility to experience the work. Careful control of daylight levels allow eyes to adjust to the darkness required to appreciate the work; a heated concrete bench offers comfort for invigilators and visitors who need to don overshoes to protect the artwork’s integrity.
The new gallery is an integral part of the re-framing of this celebrated artwork in a new context, exploring issues of the sublime, the picturesque and the failure of utopian housing projects. The reading of this modest building is complex and contradictory simultaneously recalling ancient Neolithic tombs and workaday farm buildings; it’s a beguiling combination of precious ark and utility bunker, the perfect concrete setting for this precious gemstone.
Adam Khan Architects
Arts Council Collection
RIBA Yorkshire Award 2014
Wood Mitchell Construction PLC