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Open Eye Gallery exterior wall. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery entrance. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery shop window. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery exterior at night. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery gallery space one. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery gallery space two. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery gallery space three. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery opening ceremony. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery reception. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.
Open Eye Gallery shop. Photograph courtesy of Mark McNulty.

At the end of last year, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery re-opened to the public in its new home designed by architecture practice RCKa.

RCKa were commissioned to design the new premises for the UK’s leading photographic gallery in 2008. Addressing the debate of ‘Art vs. Architecture’, RCKa’s scheme carefully balances the strict curatorial requirements of the gallery with the need to create a unique, public-facing and engaging space.

The new location for Open Eye is on the former Fourth Grace site, Liverpool’s showpiece for the Capital Of Culture bid, holding World Heritage status. The genuine 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.

The gallery’s design facilitates four distinct exhibition spaces. The first is the public space outside the gallery created by the folding, angled and translucent external wall. This wall provides a stimulating canvas for installations; bringing the inside of the gallery out and directly into the public’s gaze. To connect the architecture with the wider setting and context of the new site, RCKa proposed a dazzle paint design for the angled wall, referencing the dazzle camouflage developed in the nearby Albert Docks and used by war ships in the First World War. Artist S Mark Gubb reflects this idea with his dazzle paint composition which is currently on show. The wall embodies the gallery’s new personality; both provocative and welcoming, inviting the public to engage in a less formal way compared with a traditional gallery.

Internally there are three exhibition spaces of varying character. The public are immediately greeted by a dramatic double-height gallery space. With its imposing proportions and diffuse lighting, the space is visually stimulating in its own right and capable of accommodating large works of art. The second gallery is flexible and, with its fourth wall of glass, provides a city-facing event space, advertising the gallery’s activities to the wider public. The first floor holds the final enclosed gallery space, which accommodates Open Eye’s extensive photographic archive.

At less than £1200/m2, a fraction of the cost of a normal gallery, RCKa have created a unique new home for Open Eye, sensitive to the gallery’s needs and emphasising the desire to make art accessible and engaging to the public.