Designing a Visual Arts Centre can be quite a challenge, for it is different from designing a regular art gallery or a museum. Visual Arts Centres are spaces considered functional community centres that allow access to various forms of art, such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, filmmaking, architecture, etc.
A specific layout and guidelines must therefore be taken into consideration by the architects in order to be able to provide the space with the required facilities and equipment, which will serve the users and encourage arts practice.
Here are ten things you must keep in mind while designing Visual arts centre:
1. Simple Interior: Textures and Materials
The main objects of attention in a visual arts centre should be, without a doubt, the pieces of art. However, as architects, we know that the building is a piece of art by itself regardless of its function. In a contradictory case such as this one, the architecture must leave the spotlight for the exhibited elements. The usage of simple materials and textures for the treatment of the interior as well as the exterior walls and facades is, therefore, a preference.
In Ruby City Contemporary Art Centre, a visual arts centre in San Antonio, done by Adjaye Associates in 2019, the choice of finishing and textures is reflected in its name. The contrast between smooth and rough texture is a signature of its red-painted facades, made out of precast concrete.
Despite the vibrant and eye-catching colour, the treatment of the architecture is simple yet intriguing, the perfect combination to attract the eye without casting an overwhelming feeling on the visitors. Likewise, the interior consists of plain white walls, where the paintings and art pieces are exhibited.
2. Anticipated Development and Changes
Art is an ever-changing branch of imagination in perpetual movement and development. When designing a visual arts centre, it is important to take into consideration this dynamic aspect and come up with a conceptual approach that will allow the continuous development of the architecture simultaneously with the collection of art pieces it houses. This objective can be achieved through the use of modular or prefabricated architecture, a typology that can benefit from add-ons to the already existing structure while keeping harmony and functionality.
An interesting example of this approach is The Factory Contemporary Art Centre, designed by HTAP Architects in 2017, located in Vietnam. Having bloomed in an existing steel warehouse, the project comes together through added shipping containers, each housing a different function that completes the centre (café, shop, etc.).
The originality of this idea allows easy modifications and changes to the centre, which can adapt easily as the exhibitions and functions inside evolve.
3. Creativity: Art on the Walls, Art Within the Walls
Art, just like feelings, imagination and creativity, cannot be contained. Architects’ and designers’ main essence is their feelings, their imagination, which, therefore, leads to their creativity. When designing a visual arts centre, thinking outside of the box and in opposition to the norms is what would define a successful and outstanding project.
In Arts Center nOna, a visual arts centre designed by dmvA in 2020 and located in Belgium, the artistic spirit is invited to leave the interior and spread itself on the outdoors. In fact, a creative touch has been added by artist Nick Ervinck to the walls of the patios that form the project through the idea of “brick in motion”. This visual dynamism spices up the centre itself, and adds to it a unique touch, thus the expression art on the walls, art within the walls!
4. Ceiling Height
Taking into consideration high ceilings in projects such as visual arts centres is an important specification while designing an exhibition space or even a workshop. Aside from providing more natural light and ventilation, high ceilings create a perception of spaciousness, a definitely positive trait in rooms that are prone to welcoming a big group of visitors, who will feel more freedom in their circulation.
In Cromwell Place Exhibition and Working Space, located in London and designed by Buckley Gray Yeoman in 2020, this criteria has been achieved, and is visible in the open plan ground floor area, through a floor to ceiling height of 4.6 meters, also column-free.
5. Outdoor Extension
Making space for an outdoor extension to the visual arts centre—whether it be a patio, a garden, a terrace—has an important impact that many do not know of. Especially after the covid-19 pandemic, we started realizing little by little how important outdoor spaces are. Aside from being therapeutic, stress-relieving, and relaxing, outdoor extensions are great spaces for inspiration and creativity. Most of the world’s greatest ideas and inspirations came from the simple act of taking a walk in nature or sitting on the grass under a tree.
As per example, the Theodor Herzl Centre by Asaf Lerman in Israel benefits from a central patio, where a big oak tree rises and around which the different programs offered by the centre take place, a sight of inspiration and calm, continuously visible from all the sides of the project.
Day after day, sustainable strategies and designs become even more important, not much choice, but rather more necessity. Many companies and industries are turning to sustainable development and encouraging it. And, visual arts centres are not excluded. Therefore, coming up with a conceptual approach to equally creative and environmentally friendly design is the ultimate goal.
In Mexico, Azulik Uh May Art Center, designed by Roth-Architecture in 2018, is an adequate example of this strategy. Aside from its captivating architecture, the visual art centre’s planning is conscious of its impact and is considered carbon-free. The materials incorporated into the design are all local, mostly out of cement and wood, with the dominant presence of trees, giving an overall “floating” aspect to the creative structure.
7. Adjustable Glare and Natural Light
Another guideline to take into consideration while designing a visual arts centre is to provide the space with the needed amount of natural light and having the option to adjust that amount of light as the needs of the users require. An exhibition of artistic elements requires a different amount of light than a workshop or a painting area in the centre. Therefore, it is important to provide this sort of adaptive flexibility.
In the project Gallery and Studio located in the United States and designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects in 2019, the mounted, glazed façade provides the interior with a great amount of natural light. Moreover, it is adjustable through a set of vertical aluminum louvres that reduce the glare when needed.
8. Access to the Disabled
In every project encountered, focusing on the accessibility of individuals with special needs must be a main concern during the conception process. Visual Arts Centers must ensure their right of access, and architects must incorporate into the design ramps and elevators that can accommodate these needs and enable them to use the centre as much as any other individual would.
The project Arquipélago Contemporary Arts Centre, designed by João Mendes Ribeiro and Menos é Mais Arquitectos in 2014 in Portugal, takes this aspect into consideration through their insertion of a ramp that eases the access to those in need into and through the project.
9. Promenade and Spatial Transparency
In the conception of a visual art centre, the focus on spaciousness and transparency is mandatory to provide a clear reading of the space, inviting the visitors to circulate freely through a promenade dictated by the interior architectural sequences.
In Taizhou Contemporary Art Museum, designed in China in 2019 by Atelier Deshaus, the interior promenade slowly shifts upward through a sequence of levels, constantly accompanied by 360-degree transparency of the surroundings. Moreover, the circulation of the visitors is guided by the progression of the barrel vault structure, which guides towards the exhibition space on the top floor.
10. Studios Criteria: North Orientation & Flexible Furniture
Considered a functional community centre, visual arts centres can house aside from the galleries and exhibition spaces, workshops, and studios where the users are invited to art practice and crafts. These functions, however, demand different specifications and should be planned according to a certain preference, which mainly concerns orientation and flexibility.
Orientation-wise, north-facing windows are the most favourable, for the reflected light provides the artist with a certain control over the values and contrasts. On the other hand, making space for adjustable furniture, easily moveable tables, chairs, and partitions is as much of a necessity to accommodate the events and needs of the users.
The project Boise State University Center for the Visual Arts, designed by HGA and Lombard Conrad in the United States in 2019, takes into account these two important criteria. The studios’ windows are positioned in a way to diffuse the northern light, and the tables are equipped with small wheels to allow easy movement and change.
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