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Architectural design of the Henry Moore Institute

The design of the exterior of the Institute, facing Victoria Gardens on the Headrow, is tied to the history of this area of Leeds.

Regenerating Leeds: 1930-1980

The intersection of the Headrow and Cookridge Street, c.1900, before the demolition of several building to create Victoria Gardens. Photographer unknown.

Creating Victoria Gardens

The square in front of the Institute started as a much smaller public square in front of Cuthbert Brodrick’s Town Hall (built 1853-58).

Known then as Centenary Gardens, the square was enlarged by removing a block of city buildings and by shortening Cookridge Street. The new public space became known as Victoria Gardens.

This work resulted in a number of civic buildings (mostly designed by George Corson), never originally designed to face onto the square, becoming very publicly visible.

Leeds Art Gallery

Leeds Art Gallery, designed by W.H. Thorp in 1888, was originally tucked away down a side street. Its entrance was exposed to view when Victoria Gardens was created as part of the 1930s Headrow scheme.

In time, the gallery’s façade would be altered and re-orientated to face onto the Headrow and this new public space.

This happened in the 1980s, when an extension was added to house the city’s sculpture collection, designed by John Thorp with consultant architect Neville Conder of Casson & Conder.

Junction of the Headrow and Calverley Street, c. 1920. The building which is to become the Henry Moore Institute can be seen in the centre of the photo. Photographer unknown.

Drawing up plans

The unrendered side of the building the would become the Henry Moore Institute, facing onto Victoria Gardens. Photographer unknown.

Choosing a site

The catalyst for the building of the Institute, the first purpose-built sculpture gallery in the country, was the availability of three Grade II Listed early Victorian former Wool Merchants houses.

The Foundation turned to architects Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones BDP, who had previously designed the extension to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Already known for their sensitive and intelligent approach to conversions of existing buildings, this would be the architects’ first major public building.

Respecting the space

With the Henry Moore Institute occupying the last three properties in Cookridge Street, the conversion had to strike a balance between the retention of an existing structure and the particular requirements of a sculpture gallery.

It was decided that all the structural walls would be kept, which led to room-sized rather than warehouse-sized gallery spaces.

“We wanted an architect who would respond to the site and respect the almost domestic scale of the existing buildings and produce an architectural statement that was at once strong and restrained.”

Robert Hopper
Director of The Henry Moore Foundation

Making an entrance

Digging the foundations for the new entrance to the Institute, c. 1993. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.
Construction of the front steps leading up to the new entrance of the Institute, c. 1993. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Switching sides

With Leeds Art Gallery now facing out over the Headrow, Dixon Jones decided it would make sense for the Institute to open onto Victoria Gardens as well.

In changing the orientation of the building, the architects found they had inherited a hastily rendered, unresolved party wall – the result of the shortening of this particular terrace of buildings for the Headrow’s 1930s expansion.

But rather obscuring this raw, unsightly gable end, Dixon Jones instead chose to treat it as a piece of minimalist sculpture.

A sculptural statement

Leeds Council initially wanted the Institute to be faced in sandstone to match the Art Gallery, then compromised towards brick and then granite, favouring red granite.

Dixon Jones preferred an Italian black granite called ‘Uba Tuba’, choosing this material to make a dramatic, sculptural intervention in the architecture along the Headrow.

The raised polished black granite façade plays on the repetition of geometric forms, the single use of material and the number five. The joints between the granite slabs (which are of different course heights) are hardly visible, creating a monolithic effect.

All the vertical planes of granite were polished, with the horizontal surfaces ‘flamed’ for a rougher, safer surface in contrast.

The granite façade was set forward from the building, and is slightly smaller than the original rendered gable end, allowing the original terrace section to be read.

Construction work on Victoria Gardens and the newly built front entrance of the Henry Moore Institute, c. 1993. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

The finished façade

External view of the Henry Moore Institute, c.1993. Photo: Richard Bryant.

Rule of Five

The five bays of steps, which also act as seats, have been built into the flamed granite platform at a slight angle with the five handrails underlining the asymmetric slant of the steps.

The five windows to the Boardroom at the top of the façade, half in and half out of the granite panel, create a castellated line, and looking further up the original five chimney pots of the gable end can be seen.


Minimalism and asymmetry

Continuing with the minimalist tradition, the asymmetrically placed single glass slot on the polished façade, (the position of which was fixed by existing internal walls) leads visitors through a fissure-like, shallow-stepped entrance passage straight into the heart of the Institute, delaying the moment of arrival for as long as possible.

In the reception area a long rectangular granite-topped desk echoes the shape of the elongated entrance slot. A sliding screen closes the top of the spot-lit passage way off at night, leaving passers-by an intriguing view of an apparently blind corridor.

External lighting on the steps is semi-recessed with louvered fittings built into stonework, which work on a timer and light automatically (using photoelectric cells) once minimum lux levels are reached.

Inside the galleries

External view of the Henry Moore Institute, c.1993. Photo: Richard Bryant.

Proportional response

Three out of the four galleries reflect the domestic proportions of the building.

Originally designed as a special exhibit room, Gallery 4 is the only space to keep its original features (skirtings, alcoves, cornices and oak flooring) reflecting its domestic origins. The original sixteen-pane sash windows on the Cookridge Street façade have been retained with the original wooden shutters still used on ground floor windows.


Heavyweight design

The gallery floors were remade to take heavy sculptures and thus avoiding expansion joints which would have compromised the space. The three main interconnecting galleries have floor load bearing capacities of 1 tonne/m² max, with a single sculpture load of 10 tonnes.

The grey flooring in main galleries and reception area is Monodec grey epoxy terrazzo flooring, consisting of an aggregate bound together with a resin, and is 2.5 mm thick. The main galleries and reception area have under-floor heating. The wooden flooring on ground floor is Scandinavian timber.

Built for sculpture

Gallery 2, the largest, double height exhibition space, measures 10.7 x 9 m. The walls are painted white plasterboard. It has two perimeter roof lights 9 x 1.8 m with UV filtered glass, hermetically sealed double-glazed units comprising 6 mm Toughened Stippolyte, 12 mm cavity and 6.4 mm Laminated Pilkington ‘Optilam’ UV filtered glass with a maximum 5% transmission, and motorised dim out blinds beneath.

The 7 m high glazed doors with opaque glass reflect the hazy light; looking rather like Japanese screens, they can be closed and open inwards to load sculpture. Either side of these are large white doors which can be folded across the glass to turn the gallery into a white cube space.

The walls in this gallery, supported on a wooden framework, can support a 100 kg/m run. The walls in the two other main galleries also have timber studs behind the plasterboard, and can support objects to a maximum weight of 20 kg.

The ceiling in the double height gallery has six suspension points. The ceilings in the other two main galleries will support 10 kg/m².

Gallery 2 under construction, with loading doors to the right, c. 1993. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.


The building, subtle in composition yet ambitious in scope, continues to attract interest.

On its opening in 1993 it was well received by the press and by the city, marking a change from Leeds’ previous reputation for provincial, pedestrian, dull red-brick and blue slate roofed buildings, known as ‘The Leeds Look’. It won the 1993 Leeds Design for Architecture and the RIBA Architecture Award (Yorkshire Region) the same year.

The design of the Institute was again nominated for two 25th anniversary awards in the 25th Leeds Architecture Awards 2013 – the Young People’s Award and the Outstanding Contribution to Architecture and Design in Leeds award.

Visit us

The Henry Moore Institute

Experience, study and enjoy sculpture from around the world in the centre of Leeds.

74 The Headrow
United Kingdom

T:  01132 467 467