Prompted by a challenge on a current arts project, our Arts & Culture team have recently been thinking about porosity and permeability in arts buildings.
As we shift to an ever more open and accessible society, there is a challenge for our arts buildings to do the same. The Victorians left us a legacy of fine buildings for the arts, such as the Royal Museum (now part of the National Museum of Scotland complex) and the Royal Scottish Academy. However, these were realised in an era of grand buildings for the arts and included certain architectural tricks of the times – one of which was the grand staircase outside the front door. It is our task today to improve access to these fine inherited arts buildings and ensure that they are available to all.
As our cities have developed around existing arts buildings this also creates challenges for building permeability. Some buildings that were designed to face a particular direction, with a corresponding entrance, have found themselves isolated by the further development of the city. Our project for West Yorkshire Playhouse is in part about this - to create a new entrance and face for the organisation, such that it turns to face the city in the manner in which it has developed, and produce a permeable, porous building with all the attendant benefits and challenges that brings.
As arts buildings become an increasingly broad church incorporating retail and dining venues, one of the benefits of greater accessibility and the resulting increased footfall is the greater financial resilience that this can offer to arts organisations. We know from our experience with these organisations that 'secondary spend' – that is, the income raised from retail and dining venues - is becoming ever more important in an era of reduced government funding.
Having looked at some of our own projects where we have explored this, such as the CCA, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, McManus Galleries and Eden Court , and examples by others ranging from the Barbican, National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, Whitworth Gallery, and Tate Modern, it is clear that increasing footfall through enhancing access is a recurring theme in arts building redevelopment and extension in recent times. Although it does not come without challenges - such as maintaining building security - increasing the porosity and permeability of our buildings clearly offers great benefits to arts organisations in terms of access, openness, financial resilience, and connectedness with the city.