You enter through a narrow gateway, down an industrial staircase into the bowels of the building, past utilitarian areas full of servicing vehicles and environmental plant, pipes and ducts along to another small doorway, from where you enter into an amazing cavernous space, rising several stories high. This is Ambika P3, a 14,000 sq ft space, formerly the concrete construction hall for building students at the University of Westminster and now one of London’s hidden arts and exhibition venues.
Derelict, unused spaces in 20th century Brutalist buildings have become the new edgy spaces for art exhibitions, as seen at the former Arundel Great Court in the Strand, the Silver Building in Docklands or in the underground space at the University of Westminster. Previously unloved, these spaces, stripped of their commercial finishes, are now providing the new 21st century backcloth for contemporary art exhibitions.
The University of Westminster’s campus in Marylebone was designed in an era of huge public investment in education, in addition to housing. Designed by in-house architects in the Greater London Council (previously the London County Council), led by Michael Powell as chief education architect and Ron Ringshall as job architect, the new campus of the then Polytechnic of Central London opened in 1970 and included blocks of student and social housing. Ambika P3 is now a space where the University and the outside community comes together.
Running in parallel with Frieze is SUNDAY, the annual contemporary art fair showing the work of 25 new galleries, with the best of new and emerging artists in a variety of media from around the world, with a series of Editions up on the Mezzanine level. Fresh new work, often making commentary on issues in modern society, sometimes crazy, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, but enjoyable to visit. There is a missed opportunity however – given the height of the space, it would have been good for someone to have taken advantage of this with something that rose up from the general single storey level of the stands.