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By Kate Campbell-Payne on

Special Exhibitions Gallery: From warehouse to world-class

Go on a visual adventure to discover how the lower ground floor of a former warehouse has been transformed into a world-class gallery.

lower ground floor and museum store

The Special Exhibitions Gallery is housed in the expansive basement of the New Warehouse, a storage building completed in 1882 as part of the expanding Liverpool Road Station, and now home to three of the Science and Industry Museum’s permanent galleries. You can read more about the building’s history and use as a warehouse in this blog post by our Curator of Industrial Heritage, Katie Belshaw.

These photographs were taken in 1987, just over a century after the New Warehouse was completed. They give us an idea of what the space was like when it was used for storing goods but also how the site looked before its renovation to become the museum.

The space has since been used as a collections store, with an area of open access where visitors could see objects not currently on display, including a mannequin in an electric chair!

Documentation and Enquiries Officer, Chiara Fiaccavento, wrote about some of her favourites among the 7,700 objects in this blog post from 2019 (she’s pictured, standing in the middle in the last photo here, which was taken during the work to pack everything from the store).

Transforming the space

Working closely with architects Carmody Groarke and local contractors HH Smith & Sons, the first step to transform this space into a gallery was to take down the former store’s wall. This opened up the full space and exposed another row of the original iron columns. The New Warehouse is Grade II listed and part of the ethos for the new gallery has always been to work in tandem with the historic features of the building.

After a thorough power clean, the new floors were laid in both the main gallery and reception area. The gallery’s floor is grey and highly durable, allowing it to be decorated with graphics for each exhibition. In the reception, we used a beautiful chip patterned asphalt from Bell Asphalt. Flooring is messy work but made a big impact on the look of the spaces.

Another stunning addition to the reception area and entrance are the lit fibreglass panels by Streamline Fibreglass from nearby Trafford Park. Each new fibre-glass panel has been hand-cast and tinted with a terracotta hue to complement the Victorian brickwork. These were each installed with a lightbox behind them that you can see in the first photograph. These subtle back-lights reveal the handmade texture of the panels and highlight the historical features like the cast-iron girders and the brick jack-arches. These fibreglass panels are one of the aspects that really mix contemporary design with the industrial beauty of the space.

A new gallery

The gallery was finished early in 2021. These last photographs show the completed spaces and highlight just how much has changed. It’ll open with Top Secret later in the year. We wonder what the warehouse workers of 1882 would think of it now.

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