Reporter: 6a architects' refurbished and extended MK Gallery in Milton Keynes

Recently refurbished and extended by 6a architects the project aims for both a burgeoning creative space and a monument to the utopian modern town

Word by: Ellen Peirson

When Milton Keynes was carved out of the Buckinghamshire landscape in the Sixties, it was a beacon of utopian urban planning. Combining the ideals of the Garden City movement, and the American preoccupation with designing cities for cars, Milton Keynes arranges some 130 roundabouts around a highly organised, gridded form of urbanism.

At the top end of one of Milton Keynes’ characteristically wide streets, Midsummer Boulevard, 6a architects has refurbished and extended the existing MK Gallery, reopened on 16 March. By doubling the gallery space and adding a multipurpose auditorium, education suite and a cafe/ restaurant, MK Gallery will form the core of the Milton Keynes’ new arts quarter.

Taking its form from the city’s progressive urbanism, the design is suggestive of the meticulous grid that Milton Keynes was built on. Keeping the three existing gallery spaces, 6a has added a simple rectangular form, wrapped in corrugated steel, which creates an axis through the spaces and references the foundation of Milton Keynes. The immense addition introduces an urban scale to the gallery, with a large double-height cafe space in the centre. The expansive gridded facade of the extension is a direct reference to the Milton Keynes shopping centre, while a 9m-wide semi-circular window in the auditorium above connects the space to the adjacent Campbell Park and the landscape that was so fundamental to Milton Keynes urbanism.

MK Gallery will continue to revive the work of City Club, originally a plan for a visionary leisure centre in Milton Keynes. It was reimagined when the gallery was closed for construction, to animate the surrounding public space and imbed the gallery in its context. Artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman will continue to lead this project as it expands to the gallery spaces, supporting some 30 artists and celebrating the evolving design history of Milton Keynes.

MK Gallery will be a monument to both the utopian modern town and its burgeoning creative scene; a space created both of, and for, the town.

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