Design restarts at The Public galleries

The Public Gallery Limited, the company set up to deliver the artistic and cultural elements of West Bromwich arts centre The Public, has for the first time talked about the design and content of the space since work on the project ground to a halt last year (DW 27 April 2006).

Work was able to resume following the creation of two companies – The Public Gallery Limited and Multistory – effectively replacing The Public Charity Limited and its subsidiary The Public Building, the private company in charge of the project, which both went into administration in March 2005.

At the beginning of the year, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council – a funding partner for The Public and now the body managing the project – renegotiated with 40 contractors, including interior consultancy Ben Kelly Design and interactive group All of Us, smoothing out contractual and financial complications that arose from the project going into administration.

According to the director of The Public Gallery Limited, Marlene Smith, the gallery hasn’t ‘changed so much as evolved’. ‘The disruption has meant that we are only different in that we set out as a larger organisation, and are now part of an independent organisation,’ she says.

Smith reveals that UK art group Blast Theory will be among those exhibiting in the gallery. It has created a piece that will enable visitors to produce their own avatar, allowing them to ‘fly’ and view various floors of the building from a height using live footage.

Smith adds that BKD, which designed the gallery space, has been successful at interpreting the context of the gallery within the building as a whole. She says that the gallery design, which will feature ‘tree-trunk displays’, works in harmony with architect Will Alsop’s original concept ‘to bring the outside in’.

BKD principal Ben Kelly confirms that design work for the gallery section is ‘99.9 per cent complete’. The gallery will retain the sloping ramp spanning its three floors, in keeping with Alsop’s original vision for the building.

Kelly says that visitors will be given Radio Frequency Identification tags enabling them to collect information, interact with exhibits and modify ‘sensorial effects’. BKD has also designed the ticket desk area, security points and retail elements, details not specified in the original brief.

All of Us, the group responsible for interactive design within the gallery space, is currently ‘evaluating and specifying’ new requirements for the project, although it declines to reveal any further details.

All parties involved in the development project – from contractors through to management and funding partners – are hesitant to discuss the circumstances under which the arts centre went into administration, and questions about funding and management still surround the halting of work last year.

• The budget for The Public currently stands at £53.9m and includes funding that will cover the running of the building for two years
• Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council expects the building to open in 2008 and to receive about 250 000 visitors a year
• The project is funded by the National Lottery, the Arts Council England and Regional Development Agency Advantage West Midlands

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