Louis Mayes speaks to Carmody Groarke about the new gallery at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, created by cloaking the interior of a Grade II listed warehouse.


The Castlefield area of Manchester has become unrecognisable in the space of a few short years. Amongst a range of ongoing developments, including OMA’s The Factory cultural centre, lies the Museum of Science and Industry – a collection of brick warehouse buildings and railway sidings on a seven-acre campus that was once the terminus for the first passenger railway designed by Stevenson.

Carmody Groarke has completed a renovation to the lower ground space of the main museum building as the first step in the scheme. Practice director Andy Groarke describes the project as “opening up complex industrial infrastructure”. Client-side Project Director Anna Hesketh talks about ambitions for the museum as “a campus to be linked to the city”, with various routes cutting across the campus that key into the city.

The museum has undertaken various building projects over the years, resulting in a series of disconnected, and in places dated, buildings. “The great thing about having such an experienced client is they can draw on their experience,” explains Groarke, as he elaborates on how the scheme that won the original competition soon shifted location to an area that the museum saw as more fitting.


The Special Exhibitions Gallery is tucked away below the main hall of the museum and the Pineapple Line railway viaduct, which takes its name from the Pineapple Inn that stood on the site. The previously unremarkable position of the Special Exhibitions Gallery presented the first challenge for the design team – how to draw people into the new space. “We wanted to create a much more conspicuous entrance for the new space, one that would naturally guide people into the Special Exhibitions Gallery,” explains Groarke.

Internally, the space is linked by a 1990’s stair which punches unceremoniously but functionally down into the Special Exhibitions Gallery. Entering from the cobbled lower ground of the goods yard, the entrance is now emphasised by LED backlit fibreglass panels that form a warm reveal to the existing entrance. These are tinted a deep pink, drawing from the existing Victorian stock bricks that make up the warehouses, and sit on concrete plinths that contrast with the existing building’s materials. It is this change in materials that juxtapose with the existing fabric of the museum and demarcates the new entrance.


From a more functional point of view, the new entrance to the gallery also remedies other issues that limited the previous space. A sloping entrance mitigates a change in level between the cobbles of the goods yard and the newly cast floor surface of the foyer. Due to the constrained location the main door is for both staff and visitors, and also allows for the rapid changeover of exhibitions through a large service door, an important point in a temporary exhibition gallery.

Inside the Grade II listed warehouse, the project is a light touch. The fibreglass panels travel uninterrupted from the goods yard to the foyer, as does the building’s original jack-arch brick ceiling, drawing the visitor into the space. Formed locally in Trafford, the fibreglass creates a screen that playfully ties together the existing spaces internally and externally. The back-lit panels reveal the maker’s marks in their surfaces and gently illuminate the spatial and decorative qualities of the historic cast-iron work and arch structures that form the railway infrastructure above. “It’s a lot about services and knitting them in. The walls of the gallery work very hard,” explains Hesketh as we walk through the entrance. The fibreglass panels provide a space for the extensive services to be placed back of house and the intervention was challenged to hide almost as much as it had to exhibit.


Past the foyer, the main exhibitions space is a sensibly proportioned area set out on a grid of the original Victorian cast iron and masonry columns. The brick walls are clad in hygroscopic clay backed sheets that allow a certain amount of passive environmental control. “It’s finding the balance with these buildings, the way that you weave bits into them,” says Hesketh. “We’re trying to use materials that are really tough, to match how it’s going to be used. It’s about respecting what’s here, and what’s new.”

“The materials were chosen compel you to investigate,” explains Groarke. These material choices – the fibreglass and clay wall panels – seem fitting to be specified within the educational environment of a museum of science and industry. Well considered, they fulfil functional roles while also pairing well with the existing structure. “When a building looks like you want to touch it, it’s probably well thought out scheme,” says Groarke. If damaged, the fibreglass panels can be replaced from extras stored on site. As with their other schemes, Carmody Groarke’s sensitivity to use materials that are both robust enough for a new civic space but tied back to the existing structure is a reason for the success of this project.


Carmody Groarke’s insertion mediates between the monolithic brick and steel structure of the existing warehouse and the temporary exhibitions that are formed within the gallery. The fibreglass panels are supported by a standard steel stud frame, and the cast floor runs behind the currently hidden service areas. One has a sense that if it needed to, the space could be altered to cater for a new set of needs without huge material disruption.

As you walk through the gallery the idea of the temporality of the intervention is reinforced by the contrast between the lightweight works juxtaposed with the heavyweight Victorian masonry. This allows for the idea that the warehouse will likely outlast this insertion as demand for the museum changes and recalls Carmody Groarke’s earlier temporary projects (the Filling Station, the Hill House, Maggie’s Centre) and suggests a certain material efficiency gleaned from these previous schemes.

Groarke compares the design of the new gallery space to that of a theatrical stage set, an adjustable intervention that emphasises the architecture of the existing building but also provides a neutral gallery space. What the design team have realised has a wider value – to form a new social infrastructure for Manchester as the first space within the wider museum that plans to reappropriate the town’s industrial fabric. Carmody Groarke has managed this through interpreting the existing materials on site to create a scheme that stands out and also reflects the ambitions of the museum itself.

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