Current affairs

Milton Keynes: the textbook urban utopia project of the 60s, built under the auspices of the Garden city movement has long lost its status as the vanguard of civic design. Yet in spite of the vision that never materialised and the radical philosophies that promised so much, the town has continually attracted architectural innovation and interest, most recently from award-winning 6a architects, who have just unveiled their commission for MK Gallery.

In line with the vision of Derek Walker, the charismatic British architect and chief planner of Milton Keynes’ development during the 70s, the corrugated-clad extension adopts much of the same structural vocabulary evident in the city’s grid-pattern roads and narrow parks, inspired by the American blueprint. Accordingly, the newly designed space emphasises the elongated and linear, a result of 6a’s internal re-shuffle of the existing gallery spaces, culminating in a giant circular window which, like a setting sun, exposes two floors to sweeping vistas of the Neil Hinson-designed Campbell Park.

A cafe space, carved from the concrete innards of what was formerly a loading bay, serves as the most obvious reminder of the building’s former use (the original gallery was first built in the 90s), with brightly coloured pipes and hanging lights that are directly inspired from a page in the 1978 Habitat catalogue and the interior of the city’s former architecture department – an early work of Norman Foster’s nicknamed, ‘The Custard Factory’.

In its commitment to embodying the collaborative ethos of Milton Keynes – a town built from the cross-pollinating ideas of architects, urban planners, designers, theorists and artists – 6a’s design accommodates contribution and collaboration; both key facets of their practice and a key factor behind their successful proposal. From the building’s zany 70s colour palette (including a lipstick-red spiral staircase that will leave you desperate for a fire drill) and playground design worked on by artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman, to the work of graphic designer Mark El-khatib, the building is an unashamed reflection of Milton Keynes, both in process and final form.

The new space opens with an inaugural exhibition titled The Lie of the Land, on from 16th March to 26th May 2019.