Erick van Egeraat’s glass-fronted Institute of Modern Art has rejuvenated Middlesbrough’s barren public quarter

After being ejected from the redevelopment of the listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Erick van Egeraat has headed north to Middlesbrough. In a town not exactly renowned for either culture or cityscape, the Dutch architectural celeb set out to create an enlarged civic square and a modern art gallery – all for a budget of £19.2m.

It succeeded, too. Miller Construction has finished work and the 4000m2 Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art opened last week.

In the manner of Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim, Middlesbrough council has wrapped up art in an iconic building and used it as the agent of urban regeneration. Van Egeraat’s gallery is less flamboyant than Gehry’s – it is composed mainly of flat window walls, although many are set at arresting angles.

Its main architectural feature is a monumental wall of natural limestone that slices through the main building from one side and is textured by rough-hewn ledges. The wall neatly divides the glazed, full-height entrance hall from the four floors at the back. A great gash running diagonally through the limestone wall contains a prominent staircase, open to the entrance hall.

This delivers visitors to an events space and terrace on the third floor, from where they can percolate down through the other three floors, admiring the council’s 1,000-odd paintings photographs and sculptures on the way, as well as temporary exhibitions by artists from Pablo Picasso to Damien Hirst.

Where van Egeraat’s building beats Gehry’s is that it engages more actively with the surrounding town. Fronted by its window wall, the entrance looks out across the new square, which was designed in partnership with Dutch landscape architect West 8, to the Victorian town hall.

At the same time, it serves as a shop window for the modern art on offer. Not exactly a revolutionary idea, but one that should contribute to the revitalisation of the town’s public and cultural quarter.

Project team

Client Middlesbrough council
Architect Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects
Landscape Architect West 8
Project manager Turner & Townsend
Structural and Services Engineer Buro Happold
Quantity Surveyor Gardiner & Theobald 
Main contractor Miller Construction