Open Eye Gallery is a publicly funded photographic gallery located on Liverpool’s dockfront. The building forms part of the wider Mann Island Development, within a UNESCO world heritage site.
The design balances the specific curatorial requirements with the need to create a unique, public-facing and engaging space out of a limited budget. The desire to make art more accessible to the public, led an approach which unlocked the maximum value from this prominent site, delivering an arresting building while also providing more gallery space than was originally envisaged.
A diverse range of gallery spaces are provided and, wherever possible, the building opens up to its surroundings to advertise the Gallery’s presence, thus engaging with passers-by and ultimately encouraging visitors. There are three internal exhibition spaces, each distinctive in character and purpose: from Gallery One’s double height space just inside the main entrance; to Gallery Three which accommodates smaller scale exhibitions from the vast photographic archive; Gallery Two is open to the city and accommodates events and artists’ talks, thus animating the Eastern faÃ§ade and advertising the gallery’s activities to the wider public. The distinction between the Gallery Spaces is enhanced by spatial and aural thresholds in the form of dark stained oak corridors, which are both intimate and tactile.
A key feature in the design is the introduction of the Western Wall between the Gallery and the Covered Public Realm. The wall provides a stimulating canvas for installations; bringing the inside of the gallery out and directly into the public’s gaze; allowing the gallery to appropriate the Covered Public Realm as its fourth gallery space. The folding form of the wall purposefully jars with the character of the host Mann Island building and playfully moves around the line of columns in front of it. Its arresting form makes the most of the opportunity to engage with the public and allows us to accommodate the gallery shop in a highly visible location without compromising the spatial quality of Gallery One.
The palette of materials responds well to the Gallery’s changing exhibitions. The Western Wall in semi-translucent Corian allows light to pass through its corners and gives the impression of the wall being hewn from solid material. It has an ephemeral quality which allows wall works to appear more vivid. This is contrasted by the nature of the more tangible elements such as the unlacquered and untreated brass door handles and oak reception desk which will tarnish and age with use.