The Waterhall

The original Waterhall was designed in 1881 by Yeoville Thomason as an extension to his 1874 Council House building. It provided an impressive ground floor banking hall for Birmingham Corporation’s public water supply, with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on the first floor above. Associated Architects rationalised this historic anomaly by converting the Waterhall to provide the first addition to the Art Gallery’s permanent space since 1912. Facing the Gas Hall and Chamberlain Square, it houses the Modern British collection and other temporary exhibitions.

The fine Victorian interior, compromised by later additions, has been carefully restored, and new foyer spaces created within the existing accommodation. Unlike a typical “blind white box” gallery, generous original windows and natural light are retained and filtered by four layers of adjustable solar louvres and blinds. New engineered lighting, flooring, exhibition screens and fittings complement the Victorian cast iron structure, and Arup’s low-energy displacement ventilation system maintains excellent environmental conditions without the need for energy-intensive air conditioning.

The design allows a new entrance and access to the entire Museum and Art Gallery, and encourages gallery-related activities in Chamberlain Square. The project was designed to a fast programme to help secure funding from ERDF, Birmingham City Council and English Heritage, and opened in autumn 2001.

“I’m so happy with how my work looks in the Waterhall. I couldn’t be more happy with the air, the space, the light…”
Dame Bridget Riley CH CBE, Retrospective exhibition 2010

Client: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
Project Value: £2m
Completion: 2001
Award: Birmingham Design Initiative 2002

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