Firstsite Art Gallery, Colchester

Rafael Viñoly Architects, Essex, 2011


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  • Site plan    
  • Section    
  • First floor plan    

Distinctive golden, crescent-shaped contemporary art venue set in parkland alongside historic buildings and within sight of Colchester's original Roman wall

3,800m2 building provides a home for Firstsite, an established visual arts group, and includes galleries for international exhibitions and works from the University of Essex’s collection of Latin American art.

There are also learning spaces, a restaurant and a 190-seat auditorium.

The distinctive curved form is shaped by a 400-tonne steel portal frame that sits on a ring beam at the raft perimeter, spreading the load thin across the site. This is clad entirely in standing-seam strips of TECU Gold.

The entrance features a huge front door with a glazed screen that fronts the airy reception. From there visitors follow a route that peels off deeper into the plan and gives access to the galleries and the auditorium.

The auditorium is clad with diamond-patterned, suede-like acoustic fabric and overlapping European cherry timber shells.

The route continues past sloping, curving walls, set under a double-pitched roof with clerestories, until you reach the restaurant. To exit, you must double back.

The centre of the single-storey crescent form aligns with the entrance to the Grade-I listed East Hill House on the High Street to the north.


  • Begun: Dec 2007
  • Completed: Sep 2011
  • Floor area: 3,800m2
  • Sector: Arts and culture
  • Total cost: £28.2M
  • Funding: Arts Council England, Essex County Council, East of England Development Agency, Firstsite
  • Address: High Street , Colchester, Essex, CO1 1UE, United Kingdom

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