Stuck on a train, then on a platform of Gatwick Airport for over an hour, failed by the transport system, this was not a good start to our Studio 14 study visit to London galleries – research for our design project ‘Exhibition Continues…’

We did eventually arrive in Peckham at The South London Gallery ‘an internationally acclaimed contemporary art space’! Yet one that was relatively modest in appearance, with surprisingly an intimate domestic scale and feel. This perhaps arises from the central position of the café – a dark grey enclosing space – and the dining / meeting room – by contrast a white vertical space full of light. Free to visit, ‘always’! The SLG’s founding mission remains to ‘bring art to the people of south London’. The original building, by designed architect Maurice Adams, was built between 1896-1898, as a fine art gallery and library. It was refurbished in 2010, and expanded with incorporation of a neighbouring house, and the addition of new spaces for exhibitions, events and education, designed by 6a Architects. The differing scale of spaces, and their connection, between interior and the exterior garden rooms, is most interesting. The SLG could perhaps be described as a system of clustered multivalent spaces … offering variations of interconnectivity and use.

A bus ride to Vauxhall, a short walk, and we arrive at the Newport Street Gallery. Only recently opened, in 2015, this is artist Damien Hurst’s gallery, dedicated to the public display his artwork collection. Designed by Caruso St John Architects, the building ensemble incorporates three theatre scenery studios that date from 1913. Appearance is that of a tough post-industrial brick box, enclosing a series of white rooms on two floors that in fact offer a relatively conventional linear promenade experience. As a system it is highly controlled. ‘Pharmacy 2’ the restaurant is perhaps the most visually interesting space, but not a place that seemed to welcoming students. Apparently the Newport Street Gallery was winner of the 2016 Stirling Prize for Architecture. We wondered on what basis? The exhibition ‘Gavin Turk’ also raised much discussion on the value of contemporary art.

We walked from Newport Street, crossing the Thames at Lambeth Bridge and then left, past Thames House (headquarters of MI5), on to Tate Britain. It’s getting late; no time to see everything; just a few of its many gallery spaces in this grand ‘temple to the arts’. Opened in 1897, and many times extended and modified, it is a system of rooms that due to their extent, scale, and interconnection appear as a form of labyrinth. We examined the new central spiral staircase under the rotunda; part of the recent refurbishment works designed by Caruso St John Architects; observing both the similarity and contrast with the spiral staircases at Newport Street.

We also noted how 6a Architects, and Caruso St John Architects, align their work with contemporary art practice. As architecture students there is much that we can learn from art. Inspired by the ‘Systems’, exhibition at Tate Britain, I was encouraged in my own design project work to explore ideas such as order, sequence, rhythm, progression, depth, and topology; leading to dimensionality and the structural relationships, considering how a visual language can be communicated by geometric forms.

Linda Sze-To, and Studio 14.


South London Gallery

6a Architects

Newport Street Gallery

Caruso St John Architects

Tate Britain