The opening of the White Cube by art dealer Jay Jopling in 2000 was pivotal to the emergence of run-down Hoxton as an up-and-coming area for contemporary art and artists in the east end of London. The original gallery, created out of a former printworks, was extended upwards in summer 2002 to provide three additional floors of offices and storage, designed by Rundell Associates, by using 18 fully prefabricated glazed modules craned into position. With this extension, the simple clean architecture of the White Cube, which had already been established internally, arrived externally and, although the Hoxton Gallery closed in December 2012, this aesthetic has been carried on to the two other White Cubes in St James’ and in Bermondsey London.
The White Cube in Bermondsey, designed by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, is the most recent of the White Cube family in London, opening in October 2011, and is the White Cube’s largest base in London with more than 5440 m2 (58,000 sq ft) of an existing 1970’s warehouse space transformed to provide some of the best gallery facilities in London including double-height exhibition spaces, an auditorium and a bookshop. As in Hoxton, the White Cube’s arrival is contributing to the regeneration of this area with more contemporary art and design galleries arriving to supplement the traditional antiques fair which still takes place a short distance away on a Friday morning.
In the heart of the traditional historic St James area of London, with long-established galleries, White Cube Mason’s Yard opened in September 2006 in a courtyard off of Duke Street. It is astonishing to turn the corner and discover this contemporary building, the first free-standing piece of architecture to be built in the St James area for more than 30 years, and congratulations are due to the designers, client and planning authority for this achievement which is representative of the on-going evolution of London as a great city. The building, constructed on the site of an electricity sub-station, was also designed by Rundell Associates (architects of the White Cube in Hoxton) and provides 1110m² (11,900 sq ft) of galleries, with a ground floor gallery and a double-height, naturally-lit basement gallery.
The architecture of the three buildings has a common theme that not only provides high quality flexible gallery spaces to display contemporary art, but reinforces the identity of the White Cube. It is cool, elegant, limited in its palette of materials and colours (white, black, grey and silver). However, strangely for an organisation so visually aware, the hard concrete staircase that connects the two gallery levels at Mason’s Yard does not meet best standard for visually impaired people established in 2004. While the individual stair treads are grooved at the edge, perversely the landings are not – these are important as the first change in level. This would be simple to adjust. Am I being over-critical of a small detail? Not really; when I was there visiting the stunning exhibition of Liu Wei’s work a visitor nearly fell headlong down the unforgiving concrete staircase.