Vision for a landmark museum and art gallery for Swindon

By Anita Jaynes on 13 December, 2016

The ambitious plan to create an iconic museum and art gallery in Swindon’s town centre took a major step forward today, when the partners and stakeholders revealed their developing vision for the project.

The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG) Trust recently invited a wide range of architects to submit design concepts for a state-of-the-art structure to house the town’s museum and nationally significant collection of British 20th Century modern art, which includes works by Lucian Freud, Henry Moore, L S Lowry and Graham Sutherland.

The brief for architects was to create a landmark destination that would form the centrepiece of Swindon’s new cultural quarter, become a significant source of pride and wellbeing for local residents and businesses, and attract visitors to Swindon from the wider region and beyond.

As part of its fund-raising strategy the SMAG Trust will be applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a grant of around £10 million towards the £22 million project. Make Architects, whose founder Ken Shuttleworth lives in Wiltshire, have been selected to develop the design concepts to submit to the HLF as part of the bid.

Make’s proposal, designed with Arup, Steenson Varming and Alinea, presents a cutting edge venue that engages the community with a number of exciting facilities, including learning centres, event spaces, cafe and dining areas, a viewing gallery and a generous public realm.

Alongside these are four flexible independent gallery spaces which will showcase the museum’s outstanding British Art and studio ceramics collection, tell the story of Swindon, have an interactive science facility and also host visiting exhibitions.

The founder of Make Architects, Ken Shuttleworth, said: “Our team is extremely excited by the immense potential of the site. We believe the development of the space is a fantastic opportunity to create a beautiful cultural destination in the heart of Swindon that safeguards, enhances and celebrates the area’s collections, and creates new and engaging public realm that draws and excites visitors. We envisage a world-class building that will become an artefact in itself, an object that symbolises Swindon’s past, present and future.”

Swindon Borough Council has already pledged £5 million towards the project.

Council leader Cllr David Renard said: “Delivering a genuinely world-class new museum and art gallery is one of the Council’s pledges and forms an integral part of its plans to breathe new life into the town centre.”

Cllr Garry Perkins, Cabinet Member for the Economy, Regeneration and Skills, said: “We know from other hugely ambitious cultural projects, such as the Turner Contemporary that has re-energised and regenerated Margate, that the economic benefits to the surrounding area are huge. This structure and all that goes in it will play a key part in securing the town’s future economic and cultural regeneration, and put us firmly on the map as a major destination for arts, heritage and science.”

Robert Hiscox, chair of SMAG Trust, said the board’s vision is to build the most admired civic museum in the country.

Robert said: “Swindon is a thriving town in beautiful countryside with easy access through rail and road for millions of people.  The Council identified the need for a cultural quarter, and the new museum and art gallery will give it a heart and a centre for the local community.  It will also benefit the town’s economy by making Swindon a destination for visitors and businesses.  This is not a vanity project; it is a serious investment in the future prosperity of the town.”

The project has been warmly welcomed by one of the town’s major employers.

Rob Angus, strategy and propositions director at Nationwide, said: “Initiatives such as this are vitally important to the regeneration of Swindon.  As a major local employer we know it is important that the town continues to be an attractive place for people to live and work, not just for our current 7,000 strong, Swindon-based workforce but for our future employees too.”

Pictured above: Make Architects vision of the new Swindon museum and art gallery