The Hepworth Wakefield is named after the late English artist Barbara Hepworth, who was born in Wakefield in 1903. It is a purpose-built art gallery, located in the historic waterfront area on the banks of the River Calder south of Wakefield city centre.
The site is within the Wakefield Waterfront conservation area, which protects a number of significant industrial buildings made of brick and stone that once housed the town’s cloth and grain industries. The new building sits on the headland of the River Calder, a stretch of land trapped between the bend in the river where the Calder is closest to the historic centre, and a series of locks known as the Calder and Hebble Navigation.
At the tip of the headland, the site of the new building is exposed on all sides without being defined by either river or road. These particular conditions led to a building form without a dominant façade. The almost geological composition is a conglomerate of diverse irregular forms tightly fi tting with each other. This form was driven by the internal programme and organisation of the gallery. Each single volume represents and coincides with a single space, each unique in size and shape. To the north, where the river level drops at the weir, the building steps into the water just as many of the old mills and warehouses do along the river. The monolithic appearance and composition is accentuated by the use of pigmented in-situ concrete.
The programme is split horizontally between the ground and first floors, the latter exclusively used for exhibition space. The ground floor contains the reception, shop, cafeteria, auditorium and learning studios, as well as offices and back-of-house areas including the archive, storage and a loading bay. The cafeteria has a generous terrace space near the main reception area and all public areas enjoy views out of the building. At the core of the building is a central staircase leading to the galleries on the upper floor. This stair, naturally lit from above, draws the eye and the visitor upwards. Most of the rooms on the upper level house the gallery’s permanent collections, which range from large-scale sculptures and plasters by Barbara Hepworth and others, to highly light-sensitive works on paper from the City of Wakefield’s collection of British art. The remaining rooms host a programme of temporary exhibitions. All of the galleries use the same neutral language, allowing for future reinterpretation and representation of art works. Open doorways link the gallery spaces into fluid and varied sequences, offering inviting glimpses of other works and the outside world.
Photo credits: Iwan Baan, Helene Binet, Richard Davies.