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Architectural Design of the Institute

The design of the exterior of the Institute, facing Victoria Gardens on the Headrow, is tied to the history of this area of Leeds.

The square in front of the Institute started as a much smaller public square in front of Cuthbert Brodrick's Town Hall (built 1853-8). Subsequently, this square (Centenary Gardens) was enlarged by removing a block of city buildings and by shortening Cookridge Street, resulting in a number of civic buildings (mostly designed by George Corson), never originally designed to face onto the square now facing that direction.

The Art Gallery, designed by W.H. Thorp in 1888 was originally tucked away down a side street and was exposed to view when the Centenary Gardens was created as part of the 1930s Headrow scheme. The gallery's façade was altered and thus re-orientated to face onto the Headrow when the extension to house the city's sculpture collection, designed by John Thorp with consultant architect Neville Conder of Casson & Conder was added in the 1980s.

The catalyst for the building of the Institute, the first purpose-built sculpture gallery in the country, was the availability of three Grade II Listed early Victorian former Wool Merchants houses.

“We wanted an architect who would respond to the site and respect the almost domestic scale of the existing buildings and produce an architectural statement that was at once strong and restrained.”

Robert Hopper, Director of The Henry Moore Foundation


The Foundation turned to architects Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones BDP who designed the extension to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and who were known for their sensitive and intelligent approach to conversions of existing buildings. This would be their first major public building.

With the Henry Moore Institute occupying the last three properties in Cookridge Street, the conversion had to strike a balance between the retention of an existing structure and the particular requirements of a sculpture gallery. All structural walls were kept which led to room-sized rather than warehouse size gallery spaces.

As there was a responsibility to complete the series of new façades facing onto the Headrow by making an appropriate main entrance to the Henry Moore Institute, Dixon Jones changed the orientation of the buildings from the original brick façade on Cookridge Street to align with the Art Gallery. Inheriting a hastily rendered, unresolved party wall, the result of the shortening of this particular terrace of buildings for the Headrow's 1930s expansion, Dixon Jones chose to treat the raw rendered gable end as a piece of minimalist sculpture rather than obscuring it.

Leeds Council initially wanted the Institute to be faced in sandstone to match the Art Gallery, then compromised towards brick and then granite, favouring red granite.  Dixon Jones chose an Italian black granite called 'Uba Tuba'. The raised polished black granite façade plays on the repetition of geometric forms, the single use of material and the number five. The joints between the granite slabs which are different course heights are hardly visible so creating a monolithic effect. All vertical planes of granite are polished, with the horizontal surfaces 'flamed' for a rougher, safer surface in contrast. The granite façade is set forward and is slightly smaller than the original rendered gable end, allowing the original terrace section to be read.

The five bays of steps, which also act as seats, have been built into the flamed granite platform at a slight angle with the five handrails underlining the asymmetric slant of the steps. The five windows to the Boardroom at the top of the façade, half in and half out of the granite panel, create a castellated line, and looking further up the original five chimney pots of the gable end can be seen.

Continuing with the minimalist tradition, the asymmetrically placed single glass slot on the polished façade, (the position of which was fixed by existing internal walls) leads visitors through a fissure-like, shallow-stepped entrance passage straight into the heart of the Institute, delaying the moment of arrival for as long as possible. In the reception area a long rectangular granite-topped desk echoes the shape of the elongated entrance slot. A sliding screen closes the top of the spot-lit passage way off at night, leaving passers-by an intriguing view of an apparently blind corridor.

External lighting on the steps is semi-recessed with louvered fittings built into stonework which work on a timer and light automatically (using photoelectric cells) once minimum lux levels are reached.

The space requirements of the new sculpture centre meant an extension to the original building would be necessary and this could only take place at the rear. Dixon Jones enclosed the derelict three-sided courtyard with a 7 m (22 ft) high suspended ceiling to create the lofty double height, purpose built, daylight lit, sculpture gallery reminiscent of New York loft galleries and more like a studio space than a traditional gallery space. This room was therefore newly built with a new roof and west wall. Whereas the elevation to the Headrow expresses permanence, the council stipulated that the enclosing wall to this gallery, on Alexander Street, should have the appearance of a temporary structure. The inclusion of oak panelling enclosed in a bronze grid structure incorporating glass loading doors, suggests this section is temporary and could be slotted out from the rest of the building at any time.

The Cookridge Street façade remains unchanged, with the original red brick, and rows of sash windows reflecting the building's original function. Dixon Jones originally proposed glass panels to replace the three existing wooden doors to give a glimpse into the building, but this idea was eventually rejected.

Inside, acrylic panels on the walls either side of the front entrance walkway enhance the notion that steps are floating, extending widthways, as do gaps between walls and the internal wooden staircase. Continuing the minimalist brief, there are white walls, uniform grey floors and an absence of any detailing such as light switches, skirtings and cornices, and a combination of daylight and scenic spot lighting creates a neutral environment in which sculpture can be seen in isolation, with each exhibition radically changing the feeling of the space. Daylight is an important aspect in the large top lit gallery, its changing colour bringing the sculpture to life.

Three out of the four galleries reflect the domestic proportions of the building.

Originally designed as a special exhibit room, Gallery 4 is the only space to keep its original features (skirtings, alcoves, cornices and oak flooring) reflecting its domestic origins. The original sixteen-pane sash windows on the Cookridge Street façade have been retained with the original wooden shutters still used on ground floor windows.

Gallery 2, the largest, double height exhibition space, measures 10.7 x 9 m. The walls are painted white plasterboard. It has two perimeter roof lights 9 x 1.8 m with UV filtered glass, hermetically sealed double-glazed units comprising 6 mm Toughened Stippolyte, 12 mm cavity and 6.4 mm Laminated Pilkington 'Optilam' UV filtered glass with a maximum 5% transmission, and motorised dim out blinds beneath.

The 7 m high glazed doors with opaque glass reflect the hazy light; looking rather like Japanese screens, they can be closed and open inwards to load sculpture. Either side of these are large white doors which can be folded across the glass to turn the gallery into a white cube space.

The walls in this gallery, supported on a wooden framework, can support a 100 kg/m run. The walls in the two other main galleries also have timber studs behind the plasterboard, and can support objects to a maximum weight of 20 kg.

The ceiling in the double height gallery has six suspension points. The ceilings in the other two main galleries will support 10 kg/m².

The gallery floors were remade to take heavy sculptures and thus avoiding expansion joints which would have compromised the space. The three main interconnecting galleries have floor load bearing capacities of 1 tonne/m² max, with a single sculpture load of 10 tonnes.

The grey flooring in main galleries and reception area is Monodec grey epoxy terrazzo flooring, consisting of an aggregate bound together with a resin, and is 2.5 mm thick. The main galleries and reception area have under-floor heating. The wooden flooring on ground floor is Scandinavian timber.

The four storey building divides vertically, with the galleries at upper ground level, served by storage and plant rooms at lower ground level. The first floor contains the sculpture research library, audio visual library and archive, with offices and a boardroom on the top floor. An elegant folded timber staircase centred on a glass fin and contained by glass panels further up connects the four floors.

The square footage for the whole building is 11,600 ft² or 1,080 m². The ground floor reception and gallery exhibition spaces measure 3,200 ft² or 300 m².

The first floor and offices are detailed in a softer way to the galleries, using natural oak in order to provide a relaxed environment in which to work. The leather armchairs in the library are by Mario Bellini, with other furniture in the building by Vico Magistretti, Verne Panton, Arne Jacobsen, Mies van der Rohe and Eileen Gray.

A dramatic yet simple and elegant gently arched steel and glazed bridge leads over to the art galler, an expression of the partnership between the Foundation and Leeds City Council.

The building, subtle in composition yet ambitious in scope, continues to attract interest. On its opening in 1993 it was well received by the press and by the city, marking a change from Leeds' previous reputation for provincial, pedestrian, dull red-brick and blue slate roofed buildings, known as 'The Leeds Look'. It won the 1993 Leeds Design for Architecture and the RIBA Architecture Award (Yorkshire Region) the same year. It was nominated for two 25th anniversary awards in the 25th Leeds Architecture Awards 2013 - the Young People's Award and the Outstanding Contribution to Architecture and Design in Leeds award.