Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Hepworth Wakefield


David Chipperfield Architects' new gallery in Wakefield is a building of impressive modesty which allows Barbara Hepworth's sculpture to take centre stage and establishes strong connections with her home town

David Chipperfield Architects 2011

Seen from the train, the distinctive roof pitches of the Hepworth sit comfortably in a decayed hinterland of industrial sheds on the edge of Wakefield, Barbara Hepworth's home town. David Chipperfield Architects' new gallery houses an impressive range of work by the sculptor.

The pinkish grey of the in-situ concrete construction is precisely smooth and dense. It certainly looked terrific on the sunny afternoon when I visited. The building is best approached via Chipperfield's fine new river bridge. On this side it rises sheer out of a large weir pool on the river, rather like the massive 19th century pile of Titus Salt's textile mill at nearby Saltaire. The effect is inevitably weaker on the other side, where it is flanked by lawn, which does not seem an appropriate treatment in this post industrial landscape. Perhaps some ambiguity of identity is inevitable when an area is in a state of transition. The building is mainly wall, with irregular punched-hole windows focused on particular views. This means that it is not especially open to its context when seen from the outside.

The interior is compelling. A simple entrance hall at ground level links to the cafe, shop, cloaks and toilets, as well as education and gallery administration spaces. A generous stair leads up to the galleries, which are loosely linked cubes, distorted both in plan and section. Each gallery is top-lit along one wall and side-lit from windows, which provide carefully composed views of the river and town. Spotlights in parallel tracks on the raking ceiling augment the daylight with warm artificial light. The intensity and character of light is varied, but always shows the sculpture and paintings to good effect.

The curation of the spaces is superb: not too much on display, clear themes and nice visual links between pieces by Hepworth and her peers. There are two details that don't quite work: the tall John Lewis sculpture feels hemmed in by the ceiling, which would have been better half a metre higher, and some bronze pieces like the Caro 'Woman Waking' and Moore's 'Falling Warrior' do not seem adequately supported on painted mdf plinths.

The palette of materials is subdued: grey finish screed floors with white walls and ceilings in the galleries and clear lacquered grey mdf 3/4 height wall panels at ground level. Chipperfield has judged this building to perfection. It sits well on the site. The concrete finish is tough, but also precise and delicate. Most importantly the collection is beautifully presented and placed in the context of Hepworth's home town. The variety and rhythm of the gallery spaces is unforced, expressed in the 'picturesque' massing, which is tempered by the 'honest' concrete construction. This is a gallery completely in tune with Hepworth and Wakefield.

 See blogpost on David Chipperfield Architects Neues Museum in Berlin

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