Spanish Gallery
In Brief

The Auckland Project

Bishop Auckland

October 2021

The Spanish Gallery transforms two previously vacant Grade II Listed Buildings in Bishop Auckland to create world class gallery space for the Auckland Trust.

Within the distinctly different historic buildings, the interiors are united as visitors move seamlessly between the buildings. This has been achieved in part by introducing a new ‘grand stair’, in what was previously an unused inner courtyard, around which all the galleries are organised. Internally, this main stair becomes a familiar point of orientation for visitors as they move between rooms.  

The building features ten galleries spread over three floors, including a dramatic double-height space in an extension to the Backhouse building created to accommodate larger works. 

As well as providing education and research spaces and enabling curatorial management and movement of the collection, the gallery also has a conference suite and shop, with separate restaurant fronting on to the Market Place. These new-build elements and extensions have been designed as clearly modern interventions - visually light, metal-clad volumes, acting as a counterpoint to the substantial sandstone buildings and local context.

The first gallery in the UK dedicated to the art, history and culture of Spain, the Spanish Gallery has been conceived to contextualise Francisco de Zurbarán’s paintings Jacob and His Twelve Sons, which have hung in nearby Auckland Castle for over 250 years.

“For many centuries, Bishop Auckland was a thriving market town, but since the demise of the mining industry it has been affected by an economic and social decline. We intend to use art, faith and heritage as a ‘circuit breaker’ to drive regeneration in the local community.”

Jonathan Ruffer, Founder of The Auckland Project

"The aim is to make the town – the heart of the abandoned Durham coalfields – a tourist destination that holds people for a day or two rather than just a couple of hours... creating hundreds of entry-level jobs in a county that suffers high unemployment"

Harry Pearson, The Guardian, November 2019
Community value

By bringing academics and tourists to Bishop Auckland, this will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the town.

Bishop Auckland has a rich and surprising history, from The Prince Bishops to the Romans and railways. By reigniting interest in this history and attracting new visitors and academics, a bright future can be created for the town and the local community, with opportunities for economic and social regeneration. 

The public will play a major role in the new gallery with education programmes avaliable to them, encouraging visitors to explore and understand the role of Spanish visual culture on European art history.

Sustainable Retrofit

The project has been designed to be as sustainable and energy-conscious as possible, including the obvious advantages of the adaptive re-use of redundant high-quality historic buildings.

Spaces are insulated with natural sheep wool and recycled plastics, and air-source heat pumps provide heating, cooling and humidification to create the stable environmental conditions for the important, but fragile artworks displayed.

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