Manchester Art Gallery Expansion Project

The story behind Manchester Art Gallery’s £35million Expansion Project, which gave Manchester a contemporary new art space of international significance.

In November 1994 the City of Manchester promoted an International Design Competition to progress plans to refurbish the existing historic City Art Gallery and Athenaeum. This included expanding the Gallery with a new building on the vacant car park site and joining this with the two existing buildings to complete the block.

The competition attracted 132 architects, 6 of whom were selected to proceed to the final stage. Michael Hopkins and Partners were announced as winners in January 1995.

Ever since Manchester Corporation first took over the City Art Gallery in 1882 there have been plans to extend the premises. The acquisition of the Athenaeum in 1938 provided some additional display space, but as early as 1898 the Committee bought the block of buildings at the rear of the Gallery, (later to become a car park) with a view to extending the building. Some 100 years later, this plan finally came to fruition.

The Gallery closed in 1998 and all of the artworks were removed into storage. Many of the items now on display in the new Gallery benefited from extensive conservation work during this time. Public access to the collections was maintained by a programme of national and international touring exhibitions and loans to other institutions.

The objectives of the expansion project were:

  • To repair and refurbish the two existing historic buildings
  • To allow public access to historic interiors, for example the Athenaeum Theatre which has not been seen by the public since the Manchester Corporation bought the building in 1938
  • To provide access to the gallery for all members of the public
  • To facilitate the display of more art work from the gallery's collection, a large percentage of which remained hidden away in storage
  • To significantly upgrade environmental conditions within the galleries to assist in the preservation of art works
  • To provide exhibition galleries to international standards in order to attract high profile exhibitions

Under architect Sir Michael Hopkins' scheme, a stunning new extension with a striking stone and glass facade blends with the existing buildings to provide a new landmark for the city centre. A spacious new glass atrium was created to link the new wing with the former City Art Gallery and Athenaeum. These buildings were cleaned and refurbished, bringing new areas of the Gallery into public use for the first time. Decades of grime were removed, restoring the beauty of the interior and exterior stonework.

The new Manchester Art Gallery re-opened to the public in May 2002. As a result of the new building and refurbishment, gallery space showing artworks from the permanent collection has tripled in size from approximately 900m² to 2500m² and the exhibition gallery space has doubled from approximately 350m² to 700m².

Related Link

History of the collection