Not everyone looking at an 1882 storage depot made out of brick, iron and sandstone would decide it was the perfect home for highly-flexible 21stcentury Special Exhibitions Gallery. The Science and Industry Museum did, and this bold vision has reaped rich reward.

725m² of modern exhibition space now seamlessly inhabits the Grade II listed New Warehouse, originally conceived by Great Western Railway to facilitate bulky goods wagons unloading their cargo.

Science and Industry Museum
New Warehouse Basement in 1987 before work began © Science Museum Group No.3

It was in partnership with architectural practice Carmody Groarke and local building contractor HH Smith & Sons that the museum was able to bring the scheme to life; opening up a lower ground floor space that has never before been accessible to visitors.

“As we all rebuild personally, socially and culturally, and look forward to better things in 2021, we can’t wait to share this phenomenal new exhibition space,” says Sally MacDonald, director of the Science and Industry Museum.

The new Special Exhibitions Gallery will, she asserts, “deliver a real step change in increasing access to incredible science exhibitions and collections” and remind the team of what’s possible as the institution presses ahead with its “long-term multi-million pound restoration programme to conserve our historic buildings, open up new spaces for all to enjoy, play and learn in and to generate vital skills opportunities to support our innovators of the future”.

While the completion of this first major phase of the museum’s Masterplan has delivered much-needed optimism after a year of turmoil across the sector, the project was by no means without its challenges. The arduous task of treading the line between restoration and reimagination has, in the mind of Andy Groarke, director of Carmody Groarke, heralded a remarkable outcome.

“By counterpointing the carefully restored historic building fabric with bold new materials, our architectural interventions reframe and repurpose the already wonderful spaces within the New Warehouse as a backdrop for exhibitions and visitor welcome,” he states.

Science and Industry Museum
Threshold into the new Special Exhibitions Gallery © Science and Industry Museum

Delicately restored Victorian industrial red brick architecture in intermingled with modern additions such as hand-cast illuminated fibreglass panels to introduce a warm, contemporary lighting scheme. Belying its 19thcentury origins, the structure is now also equipped with dedicated object preparation and handling facilities, along with top of the range environmental controls.

Work has in no way been limited to the Warehouse interior, however. A fully accessible outdoor welcome area in the lower courtyard sets the tone for more development of the museum’s outdoor spaces as the wider redevelopment advances. This will also lead to stronger links to the local area – one of the main aims of the overarching project.

Science and Industry Museum
Special Exhibitions Gallery Entrance from the Lower Yard © Science and Industry Museum

“The impact of this transformational project on our city will be immediate,” claims Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council. “The incredible new experiences that this spectacular gallery will bring will be integral to the cultural and skills recovery of our city through science, arts, technology and innovation for everyone.”

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage, adds that the new space “opens up a wealth of opportunity for the Science and Industry Museum and demonstrates the importance of not only the heart of Manchester but the whole of the North West”.

The Special Exhibitions Gallery has cost around £5 million to deliver. The majority of this figure was raised courtesy of a £3.8 million grant from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with other backers including Wellcome, Garfield Weston Foundation, Kirby Laing Foundation, and The Zochonis Charitable Trust.

Keen to know more? Project director Anna Hesketh explores the Special Exhibitions Gallery’s blend of the old and the innovative in this blog post.

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