New designs revealed for permanent commission by artist Giles Round at 24 Guildhall Road

NN Contemporary Art (NNCA) is excited to reveal new designs for a Civic Reading Room artist commission by Giles Round at 24 Guildhall Road in Northampton. Round is designing a new artist-led civic, social, and educational space comprising a community kitchen, reading room, café-bar and co-working and learning hub, as a permanent, additional offer to NNCA’s expanded programme. The creative spaces will open to the public in Autumn 2024, following the completion of the £4.7 million capital project that is transforming 24 Guildhall Road into a major contemporary arts centre for Northampton and the wider East Midlands region as a partnership project between West Northamptonshire Council and NNCA.

Round’s work is collaborative, grown through a deep engagement with people and place. This commission draws inspiration from the particular architectures of Northampton, weaving in references to town landmarks including 78 Derngate, The Guildhall and Mounts Baths, whilst incorporating design choices that might run counter to conventional expectations of civic public spaces. In these new images, Round has created a collage of future creative communities, human and non-human, to portray an eclectic palette of possibilities and collaborations enabled by creating these kind of spaces.

Round’s bold, colourful designs for 24 Guildhall Road will create welcoming spaces for local residents, students and NNCA’s community of onsite studio artists. The spaces will facilitate artistic practice and creative conversations between studios and galleries, recognising social activity and community gathering as vital parts of generating creative and artistic visibility in towns. A varied collection of objects and commissions inspired by local knowledge and skills  will be available in the space to create and inspire a programme of hosting and being hosted by artists and their communities. A dining room and cafe will focus on local circular economies, local produce and sustainable practices across food and design. This unique project allows NNCA to open fully to the public with a new business model that offers opportunities for participation, development, education and support of its community and creative-led groups and individuals.

The commission is one of only a handful of permanent commissions that Round has undertaken, having recently designed the Lantern Foyer for Bristol Beacon concert hall, a curtain for the Foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, and, a series of permanent works for Art on the Underground, London Underground, realised at Blackhorse Road, Vauxhall and Victoria underground stations. 

The early brief for the Civic Reading Room was led by a variety of Northamptonshire community groups through the collaborative research project ‘Clock & Clay’, facilitated by performative architects Studio Morison. The Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, C2C Social Action, local business owners, Northants students and NNCA’s studio artists all took part in mapping out the arts ecology of the town, collectively informing a future layout and vision for the new building. Transdisciplinary collectives Cocina Co-Laboratorio, Pooleyville and RESOLVE Collective all collaborated with NNCA on activities and knowledge exchanges for developing the final designs, layouts and future programming agendas for 24 Guildhall Road.

Emer Grant, CEO and Artistic Director, NN Contemporary Art, said:

“We are delighted to reveal Giles Round’s designs for our Civic Reading Room, which is set to open as a truly unique space for Northampton. It was a competitive process through which many exciting designs came forward for the space, however Giles Round’s painterly approach to designing artist-led spaces stood out as an exciting prospect for the development and staging of a creative communities curriculum and new kind of public offer for the town.”

Artist Giles Round said:

“I am thrilled to have been commissioned to design the Civic Reading Room. The interior draws inspiration from the architecture of the town – such as 78 Derngate, The Guildhall and Mounts Baths. The spaces will be unique, specifically Northampton and unprecedented in terms of a civic arts institution. I have loved working on the interior, meeting everyone and immersing myself in the wild and decorative Northampton style. Spread across seven public rooms, the space is an incredible gift to both the community of artists/creatives and the town beyond.”

The full regeneration works project at 24 Guildhall Road is a partnership between West Northamptonshire Council and NNCA, and will enhance the current space with new artist studios, a contemporary art gallery space and facilities for visitors. The works are being funded by a £1,750,000 award to Northampton from the Government’s Towns Fund and a further £1,500,000 investment from West Northamptonshire Council.

Cllr Lister, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Town Centre Regeneration and Growth said:

“We are thrilled to see this fantastic local creative space to nurture the arts, culture and the overarching tourism offer within Northampton and wider West Northants. We are dedicated to actively driving physical footfall and spend across all local attractions, providing tons of reasons to visit and explore West Northants time and time again. As an area, Northampton boasts a unique independent spirit, proudly showcasing culture, heritage and the arts at its core; this commission will be an incredible community space to champion Northampton and the artistic strengths of this area.”

More details on the new Civic Reading Room at 24 Guildhall Road:

The Civic Reading Room project at 24 Guildhall Road brings new civic-led, fully accessible and creative spaces to Northampton, designed by artist Giles Round. It is part of the transformation of a historic civic building into a world-class visual arts venue that will be the new permanent home for NNCA.

The features and functionality of the Civic Reading Room spaces have been developed through a two-year community engagement programme employing environmentally responsible approaches. A new community kitchen has been fitted-out and equipped to alter the room’s function depending on the user group, supporting new scalable business models and accessibility. This will open up a new culinary dimension to NNCA’s offer, where practices around food, hosting and local produce can become a social and creative space.

The spaces will work both practically as a resource and also as social sculpture, making connections, making ideas grow and fostering relationships, trust and confidence. Grown through a deep engagement with people and place, the Civic Reading Room is a manifestation of artistic research. The vision for 24 Guildhall Road invokes creatives taking more ownership of NNCA as a community enterprise, through visual arts that can offer empowerment.