French photographer Etienne Clément has spent the past three years documenting a Gateshead grain silo's transformation into an arts centre. Ten months before it opens, here are some of the results …
next March, the former Baltic Flour Mills in Gateshead will reopen as an arts centre. The £46m, four-year construction programme is being documented by photographer Etienne Clément, whose pictures will be exhibited at the RIBA next spring, to coincide with the project's completion.

In 1998, Clément was commissioned by Baltic director Sune Nordgren to record the abandoned quayside building – a silo built in the 1950s and used to store imported grain from eastern Europe – before it was gutted and transformed into the lottery-funded Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

The commission was part of a series of projects planned by Nordgren to turn the construction process into a rolling programme of artistic events. Clément says: "I thought this was such a sexy project that I decided to document the whole process."

Since then, Clément has been a regular visitor to the site, usually when it is empty of workers, in order to capture the unique atmosphere of the vast, 42 m high building.

The first stage of construction involved gutting the building to remove the 148 concrete grain silos. In summer 1999, the enormous void was temporarily filled with a huge installation by artist Anish Kapoor. The piece, called Taratantara, consisted of an enormous red PVC trumpet stretched across the 52 m long space. Other temporary art interventions on the building have included a series of gigantic banners by Bruce Maclean which were slung from the roof, and a 2km high light beam by Jaume Plensa.

Builders are now completing the installation of five exhibition floors and five mezzanine levels between the preserved north and south facades.

Clément, who was brought up in Aix-en-Provence, France, is something of an aficionado of construction sites. "Building sites were my playground when I was young. I used to break in and play. I realised recently that all the smells – the concrete, the plaster – were from my childhood."

The Ellis Williams Architects-designed centre, which is being billed as northern England's answer to the Tate Modern, is part of a cluster of major projects on the banks of the Tyne. Wilkinson Eyre Architects' dramatic Gateshead Millennium Bridge, situated next to the Baltic, is due to open later this year while work began last month on Foster and Partners' £70m Music Centre on the opposite bank.