The project is a joint venture between visual arts agencies Autograph – the Association of Black Photographers – and the Institute of International Visual Arts.
Lottery funding of £5m from the Arts Council has been earmarked for the construction of the building.
The 1500 m2 building will house administrative office space for Autograph and inIVA. Both are moving to the gallery, which will become their joint headquarters.
There will also be shared facilities and public spaces, including a gallery, a multimedia space, a library, an auditorium for lectures, a cafe and workshops.
The project is part of the development of an east London cultural venture led by inIVA and Autograph in partnership with Tower Hamlets council.
The gallery will provide a centre of excellence for the presentation of ideas and practices in the contemporary visual arts.
Director of Autograph Mark Sealy said the gallery would be "a small, modest landmark building for contemporary culture".
A decision on the winning architect is expected at the end of the month. The date for the completion of construction is 2005.