The Hepworth Wakefield is named after Barbara Hepworth who was born in Wakefield in 1903. It is a purpose-built art gallery, located in the historic waterfront area on the banks of the River Calder south of Wakefield City Centre. 

The site is within the Wakefield Waterfront Conservation area, which contains a number of significant industrial buildings made of brick and stone that once housed the town’s cloth and grain industries. The new building sits on the Headland of the River Calder, a stretch of land trapped between the bend in the river where the Calder is closest to the historic centre, and a series of locks known as the Hebble Navigation which create a shortcut.

The main route into Wakefield from the south was established with the construction of a toll bridge across the river in the Middle Ages. In the fourteenth century the chantry chapel of St Mary the Virgin was built adjacent to the bridge, which was also rebuilt in stone. By the early nineteenth century, when the chapel was restored by George Gilbert Scott, the stone bridge was still in use. A second bridge was built over the weir in the twentieth century, scarring the landscape at the time when the local industry was in decline. When this site was chosen for the new gallery, the current landscape was characterised by the dominant form of the twentieth century bridge and a series of disparate buildings, some dilapidated, others given meaningless makeovers in the 1980s, and still others clad in oversized advertisements. At the tip of the headland the site of the new building is exposed on all sides without being defined by either river or road. These particular conditions led to a building form without a dominant façade. The almost geological composition is a conglomerate of diverse irregular forms tightly fitting one another. This form was driven by the internal programme and organisation of the gallery. Each single volume represents and coincides with a single space, each unique in size and shape. To the north - at the same place where the river level drops at the weir - the building steps into the water just as many of the old mills and warehouses do along the river. The monolithic appearance and composition is accentuated by the use of pigmented insitu concrete.

The programme is split horizontally between the ground floor and the first floor - exclusively used for exhibition space. The ground floor contains the reception, shop, cafeteria, auditorium, and learning studios, as well as offices and back-ofhouse areas including the archive, storage, and a loading bay. The cafeteria has a generous terrace space near the main reception area and all public areas enjoy views out of the building. At the core of the building is a central staircase leading to the galleries on the upper floor. This stair, naturally lit from above, draws the eye and the visitor upward. Most of the rooms on the upper level house the gallery’s permanent collections which range from large-scale sculptures and plasters by Barbara Hepworth and others, to highly light sensitive works on paper from the City of Wakefield’s collection of British art. The remaining rooms will host a changing programme of temporary exhibitions. All of the galleries use the same neutral language, allowing for future reinterpretation and representation of art works. Open doorways link the gallery spaces in a fluid and varied sequence, offering tempting glimpses of other artworks and the outside world.

From inside the individual blocks, the outer morphology can be clearly seen in ceilings which slope parallel to the outer roofs, and rooms in which no two surfaces lie parallel to one another. Walls meet at diverse angles, and the variations in size and ceiling pitch give each room a unique atmosphere. Daylight enters the galleries through carefully placed incisions in the blocks. The main source of daylight in each gallery is a light slot running the full width of the ceiling at the highest end of each space. The varying angles of each block’s ceiling have been calculated to admit and diffuse light in the best possible way, complementing the artificial lighting system.Louvers allow the light to be regulated or even completely blocked out if necessary. In addition to these light slots several of the galleries feature a window, scaled according to the orientation and importance of the view, framing an aspect to the world surrounding the gallery and linking Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures to the landscape in which she grew up.

source: David Chipperfield Architects