Caruso St John are one of the offices of the moment in the UK having secured the 2016 Stirling prize with the worthy winner Newport Street Galery in London. I wanted to share another gallery they designed that achieves a similar standard of architecture – Nottingham’s Centre for Contemporary Art. The project was initiated by the city council in 2004 through an international competition from which Caruso St John were selected.
The vision for the project was to create dynamic ‘found’ spaces that would house object-based visual art and time-based performance art. Inspired by industrial areas in New York and by the likes of artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown, Caruso St John provided a series of spaces, internal and external, that vary from sheltering you from the busy thoroughfares of the city to opening you up to key vistas of close by landmarks. There is a balance between connection, honouring its central context, and contemplation, honouring the art exhibited.
The gallery is located in an area of Nottingham called the Lace Market, which was a former industrial zone for the manufacture of Lace, unsurprisingly. The facade nods to this historical reference by exquisitely casting lace patterns into the pre-cast concrete cladding and repeating these elements in a rhythmic fashion to replicate the 19th Century factory buildings in the vicinity. The effect gives the building a textured look from afar, but on close inspection, you notice the historical and intricate reference.
The site posed a few challenges cleverly turned into opportunities by some canny thinking. The busy A road to the West and steep topography were 2 constraints that had to be dealt with strategically. The creation of a lower level courtyard connected with stone steps on two sides could act simply as a route through the site or can be inhabited, as is often the case for attendees at the various performances arranged in the bar area. Connection with the inside is made easy with generous sliding glazed doors, this also limits wine spillage.
The clever use of levels in dropping the courtyard down several metres means that the area feels protected from pollution and the elements, it is noticeably quieter and the result is a feeling of being immersed in that very particular place. This is despite being outside and effectively on a cut-through from A to B, I think it really does help to draw people into the gallery. For me, it is certainly one of Nottingham’s better contemporary pieces of architecture.