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The Hepworth Wakefield

CREDIT: DAVID CHIPPERFIELD


The Hepworth Wakefield with its brutalist form contrasting with the delicate surrounding trees, almost appears to float as it sits on the headland of the River Calder. As you cross the bridge that spans the weir, the intimidating fortress-like building becomes more intriguing as it emerges from behind the trees, revealing windows that purposefully frame the sculptures inside.The clever placing and scaling of the windows not only allows the interior exhibitions to be framed when viewed from the exterior, but also the exterior surroundings to be framed when viewed from the interior.


As I approached the glass fa├žade of the entrance, the intimidating exterior dissipated as the interior appeared to be very welcoming and inviting; the glass allowed for a clear view of the interior space that I was entering, meaning there was no need for hesitation as I drew closer. When I entered the entrance space there was a clear, unobstructed, direct path that guided me through to the galleries on the upper floor. This effect was supported by the elongated shape of the reception desk along the right-side wall, which drew the eye towards the staircase to the galleries. Furthermore, unlike the galleries, the lower interior ceiling didn’t match the exterior form of the building, causing me to want to move upwards through the space and explore more. Following my research, I found my interpretation matched the architect’s, as a key aspect of the design was to encourage visitors to follow a direct path to the stairs, “At the core of the building is a central staircase…naturally lit from above, [that] draws the eye and the visitor upwards”. This technique used to achieve the optimum audience experience is something I would like to replicate in my designs.


Another key element of the interior space was the monochrome palette of whites and greys, which made me feel calm and focussed when entering the space. It also created a very neutral backdrop for the gallery, meaning my eye focussed on the signage and the content of the galleries without distraction. Whilst this would not my personal choice of colour palette, it made me realise that it is important to carefully select which aspect of the design to focus on. Because the colour can’t be too loud and distracting in this space, the architects have focused on the textures and form of the materiality. The materials, whilst contrasting, complement each other and meet with a very subtle joint. The polished concrete floor meets the wall panelling, for example, with a small and subtle shadow gap.


The neutral colour palette was complemented by the lighting as the light appears to be mostly natural, coming from the large glass section of the opening; this is also reflected in the galleries with the use of openings that span the width of the ceilings. This again had a calming effect but could perhaps be considered a little clinical against the white walls. However, it seems that the overall effect was in fact mostly calming as visitors seemed to be relaxed and inquisitive, asking questions and strolling, taking note of every aspect of the space. This taught me that natural light can become a key feature of a design, something that I will consider in my own work.


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