A Site for Sculpture: Building the Institute
Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
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As the Henry Moore Institute turns 30, this display in the Sculpture Research Library looks back at the history of the building.
Opened in 1993 and designed by architects Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones (Dixon Jones), the Henry Moore Institute’s construction preserved three nineteenth-century terrace houses while delivering an ambitious space for exhibiting sculpture.
“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, 1993
Director of the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust
During the design stage, Dixon Jones had to address the unrendered external wall which had faced the Headrow for seventy years. This had been created in the 1920s when the original end terrace was demolished as part of a scheme to extend The Headrow.
Rather than covering this end wall, Dixon Jones opted to turn it into a piece of minimalist sculpture, with the original wall partly preserved and visible. Jeremy Dixon described how the new façade was influenced by a minimalist display he had seen at Tate Liverpool.
“The powerful influence was seeing these works which explicitly are about the relationship, their relationship to the space around them. That’s the starting point of this. Using very elementary means, to make very powerful ideas.”
Jeremy Dixon, 2010
Interview with Niamh Dillon for Architects’ Lives
National Life Stories (C467/91)
Discussions with Leeds City Council resulted in various proposals: sandstone (to match the art gallery), red granite and the black granite we see on the façade today. The final design used two types of finish: the vertical planes of granite were polished and give a reflective look, while the horizontal planes were ‘flamed’ to achieve a rougher surface for walking on.
Within the building the design of the sculpture galleries also created a number of challenges, some of which were complicated by its Grade II listed status. The largest gallery occupies a former courtyard, with the conversion ensuring the space could be reinstated in the future. The final design incorporates oak panelling and glass loading doors, suggesting this section is temporary and could be slotted out from the rest of the building. Importantly the final design did not result in any compromise regarding the functional aspects of the gallery, which with its seven-metre-high suspended ceiling was designed for sculpture.
The new gallery was opened on 21 April 1993, with the inaugural exhibition Romanesque: Stone Sculpture from Medieval England.
You can listen to Jeremy Dixon talking about the Henry Moore Institute project on the National Life Stories sound point in the main reception area on the ground floor.
Architect Jeremy Dixon looks back on the process of designing the Institute, and the influence of sculptural minimalism on the project.
“As architect for the Henry Moore Institute building, I am obviously delighted to contribute to the 30th birthday celebration. It was a very enjoyable project to work on and I was particularly pleased to read the description and analysis of the architectural ideas already on the website. It is very thorough and accurate, so much so that I don’t need to repeat it all here. My contribution will be somewhat personal and will start with acknowledging the key people involved.
The overall client was Alan Bowness, by then the Director of the Henry Moore Foundation. Alan had previously been Director of the Tate Gallery where he was a very active commissioner of architectural projects – Hepworth St Ives, the Clore building, Tate Liverpool and the Coffee Shop and Whistler Restaurant (which we won in a competition).
When Alan was appointed as Director, he immediately, true to character, launched a new project for an Institute for Sculpture. In this case the commission was direct, without the usual competition. The hands on client for the project was the new Institute Director, Robert Hopper.
Robert was very clear as to the correct specification for gallery space, essentially the purest interpretation of Minimalism – at the time a fresh way of thinking that saw the works of sculpture being able to ‘take over’ the spaces they were in. I am grateful to Fenella, then my wife, for directing me to an important exhibition of minimalist sculpture current at that time at Tate Liverpool. For me it was all a revelation and absolutely motivated me to express some this sensibility in the design of the project, in particular the new elevation to the Headrow.
I was inspired by an essay by Michael Craig Martin in which he described an aspect of minimalism as being ‘extracting the maximum from the minimum of means’. Thus the façade is a single material – black granite – in its natural form as polished vertical surfaces and flamed horizontal ones, plus repetition of the number five – steps and windows – and an entrance positioned by the existing retained structure.
The galleries have minimum detail, no skirtings, switch plates etc and an undivided continuous floor. The new façade leaves evidence of the old ‘cut’, the damaged remanent of the existing retained terrace. Here, the work of the German architect, Hans Dollgast, in repairing war damage to the Alte Pinakothek Munich in such a way that the damage remained visible, was an important influence.
Alan Bowness was a great support and Robert Hopper an inspiration. I would also like to mention two architects in the Practice, John Moran and Michael Trigg, who in varying ways made the project possible.”
Jeremy Dixon, Architect, 2023