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Founded as a natural history museum in 1821 in grand premises on Peter Street, the University of Manchester-owned museum has grown to play host to a fascinating collection of exhibits over the years. The museum was transferred in 1868 to Owens College, which later became the University of Manchester. The College commissioned the renowned architect Alfred Waterhouse to design a museum building, which was opened to the public in 1890.


Launched last year, ‘Hello Future’ is a major project to develop and transform Manchester Museum to bring more wonder and inspiration from around the world to visitors. Driven by renewed social purpose, the museum will become more relevant and welcoming to all ages and communities. As part of the project, Purcell was commissioned to design a major new gallery extension housing a dedicated South Asian Gallery and temporary exhibition space, as well as to resolve issues around accessibility through the introduction of a new main entrance, foyer and visitor facilities.

The new gallery building has been designed to achieve a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating in terms of energy consumption and air-tightness, a requirement in-line with the museum’s sustainability strategy. The new building will provide a dedicated gallery space for the presentation and interpretation of South Asian culture, an important facet of the museum’s strategic vision to broaden visitor access. At the heart of the gallery will be a unique performance space, dedicated to showing the very best live music, dance and performance from and inspired by South Asia.

The museum’s principal entrance has been reconsidered, with the aim of creating a more visible and welcoming first impression for visitors. This included designing new orientation spaces and shop with accessibility at the forefront of considerations.

The constrained, urban site located within the existing courtyard of the Grade II-listed buildings presented challenges with regards to construction sequencing and buildability. Purcell’s design solution was to adopt a strategy of minimal intervention to the existing buildings, through the creation of a lightwell along two sides of the proposed new building. The new gallery building was designed to offer maximum flexibility for the museum through the use of an open steel structure and provision of accessible services to floor and ceiling voids. The future-proofing of exhibition requirements is to be achieved through the provision of roof lighting, accessible roof deck, full black-out capabilities and high security standards.

Public Consultation

Purcell led a public consultation event at Manchester Museum with the support of the Museums Learning and Engagement team. The event offered 250 visitors of all ages, along with key stakeholders, the opportunity to engage with the architect’s development plans and understand the nature of the proposed works for the Courtyard redevelopment. Using 3D models of the proposed building work, architects’ drawings and 1:1 samples of interior and exterior elements of the building, visitors had the opportunity to ask questions about the nature of the works and make comments on the proposed plans. The consensus following the event was that the general public welcome the investment in the new galleries and visitor spaces proposed for completion in 2020.

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