The Photographer's Gallery

by Darren K H Tsang
Tags: AD378, Insertion, O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects, Reconstruction, Research, The Photographer's Gallery, View

The Photographer's Gallery

The Photographer’s Gallery was founded in the 1971 and funded by Sue Davies, OBE. It was the first independent gallery in Britain solely devoted for photography. The gallery was first based in a converted Lyon’s tea Bar on the edge of Convent Garden in Great Newport Street. Up until 2008, the gallery moved to a former textile warehouse located in Ramilies Street in Soho. There were plans of constructing a brand new building; however Irish architects O'Donnell and Tuomey designed an extension to an existing brick and steel warehouse. After closing for redevelopment in autumn 2010, the new building opened in 2012.

The target for this project was to raise £9.2 million in order to start the construction. The Photographer’s Gallery managed to receive a £3.6 million grant from the Arts Council England, £2.4 million from the sale proceeds of the Gallery’s previous building at Great Newport Street and £2.8 million from Foundations, Trusts, individuals, corporates, an auction of donated photographs held in 2011 and other public funds which comes to a total of £8.8 million. The gallery plans to raise the remaining £360,000 for its public programme through naming rights for the top floor gallery and public appeal.


Irish architects O'Donnell and Tuomey decided to insert black rendered walls overhanging the original Victorian brickwork to add 2 additional floors to the building. The brick warehouse’s steel frame building is extended to minimize the increase in load on the original structure and foundations. The lightweight extension is cladded in a dark rendered surface that steps forward from the face of the existing brickwork. The café on the ground floor is finished with black polished terrazzo. Untreated hardwood timber framed elements are flushed with the rendered surface. A deep cut in the ground floor façade was made to reveal the café. The ground floor slab was cut out to lead down to the basement bookshop.

In my opinion the remodel of The Photographer’s Gallery was very successful. My first visit to the Photographer’s Gallery before the reconstruction was rather dull; the available space within the interior was simply not big enough for the events that were going on in the gallery. My second visit was after the reconstruction opening shows by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky and the New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective. The insertion of the black-rendered walls brought a new character to the old former textile warehouse. My favourite part of the building is the outstanding view from the east facing window on the top floor in the gallery. From here, you can see the city of London. As well was the view, I think the programme is unique and space efficient. The café located on the ground floor and the shop in the basement help separate the function from gallery space and teaching space running above.