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Architecture: The best British art galleries

BY Sophie Taylor

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Architecture: The best British art galleries

Take a tour of Britain’s contemporary art galleries in all their architectural, eclectic glory with Sophie Taylor, as she shows us exactly what makes them so special, from secret doors and tunnels to converted mills and twisted brickwork. 

Baltic, Newcastle

the baltic newcastle

In the late 1930’s the Baltic was designed by architects Gelder and Kitchen for Rank Hovis to be used as a flour mill. Little did they know that by 2015 the building would be welcoming its six-millionth visitor.

The now converted Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead peers out over the impressive curving steel of the Tyne Bridge and regularly houses large exhibitions, not to mention the Turner Prize in 2011 and a Yoko Ono 50 year retrospective in 2008.




This South London art gallery is recognised as one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th Century and was called "one of the modern wonders of the world" by none other than Her Majesty the Queen.

The Barbican is a Brutalist utopia, created to restore a neighbourhood destroyed after the Second World War bombings. Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon designed this now Grade II listed building in the early 1970s and it took over 10 years to build.

Did you know there is a secret tunnel beneath the Barbican tower that leads down into the underground tube tunnels? Be safe down there if exploring!


Arnolfini, Bristol

The Arnolfini
Image via Arnolfini

Taking its name from Jan van Eyck's 15th-century painting 'The Arnolfini Portrait', this Bristol gallery moved to Bush House in 1975, a near-derelict Grade II listed warehouse located on the floating Bristol harbour.

The docks were closed to commercial traffic in 1975, making the Arnolfini a timely and pioneering conversion, helping to attract more business to the derelict harbour which is now a social and cultural hub of Bristol.

To celebrate urban renewal, Bush House featured on a set of Royal Mail stamps in the mid-1980s. More recently, the Arnolfini was refurbished and gained an impressive double-height gallery, new studios and a reading room.


Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham

nottingham contemporary
Image via Distorted Arts

Award winning architects Caruso St John designed the contemporary Nottingham Contemporary art gallery to be housed on the oldest site of the city: once home to a Saxon fort, a medieval Town Hall and even a late Victorian railway cutting.

The patterning of the exterior reflects the Lace Market that once ruled the space in the 19th century. It is an elegant merging of old and new, of integrating and clashing with the area, indicative of the contemporary artistic contents of the building.


New Tate Modern wing

tate modern extension

This twisting pyramid of bricks is the new Tate Modern wing, developed to create more space for a larger variety of works and give a platform for more international modern and contemporary art.

Architects Herzog and de Meuron designed the ten storey building to teeter above The Tanks (spaces dedicated to live art, film and installation pieces) and to mirror the Tate Modern’s chimney, while boasting a huge 20,700 square metres more space.

You can visit the new wing now as it opens to the public on 17 June 2016. The gallery is expecting 60,000 visitors per day on the first weekend, so expect a few queues. How very British.    


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