The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Sparks fly at topping out of Goldsmiths university's new contemporary art space

Joe Friel cuts out a metal plate from the old water tanks to be made into a commemorative plaque Goldsmiths, University of London

Goldsmiths new Centre for Contemporary Art (Goldsmiths CCA), which opens in September this year, received its local blessing on Monday (23 April) at a ‘topping out’ ceremony conducted by the mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock (himself a Goldsmith’s alumnus) and the warden of Goldsmiths, Patrick Loughrey.

The ceremonials were preceded by hard hat tours from the Goldsmiths CCA gallery director Sarah McCrory and the university’s head of the art department, Richard Noble, offering an early preview of the space. The £4.2 million centre is being converted from the plant works and water tanks of a former Victorian swimming baths by the London-based collective Assemble, who won the Turner Prize in 2015.  

This provided an opportunity to experience the distinctive range of gallery spaces and to learn from their names who have been their chief benefactors. One elegant top-lit white cube has been christened the Zac and Candida Gertler Gallery while another substantial gallery has been endowed by the Bridget Riley Art Foundation and bears the name of the artist, who studied at Goldsmiths between 1949 and 1952. “To have a vote of confidence from Bridget is an astonishing thing and we are delighted by it,” says Noble.

From left to right: the warden of Goldsmiths, Patrick Loughrey; the Goldsmiths CCA director, Sarah McCrory; the mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock; the councillor for Brockley, Obajimi Adefiranye; the councillor for New Cross, Paul Maslin; the director of Bryen & Langley, Andrew Macpherson; the councillor for Telegraph Hill, Joan Millbank; and the head of the department of art at Goldsmiths, Richard Noble Goldsmiths, University of London

Assemble have made a point of retaining many of the original features of the 19th-century Laurie Grove Baths, most notably the iron water tanks. One has been preserved almost intact to become the Daskalopoulos Tank Gallery, named after the Greek collector and patron Dimitris Daskalopoulos. Another, which serviced the women’s pool, has been opened to the elements to become the Roden Courtyard Gallery, named after Stuart and Bianca Roden. Both spaces form a gritty contrast to the white cube rooms below. The Goldsmiths CCA building also offers views into the main baths building, which continues to be used for student studios. Another important feature is a large versatile space for talks, events and screenings that will be used across the departments of Goldsmiths, which has been endowed by the Oak Foundation.

When the time came for the topping out, there was no dainty ribbon cutting or—as in ancient times—the placing of a live tree at the highest point. Instead, up in the Roden Courtyard, sparks flew and guests and dignitaries kept their distance as a steelworker cut through the heavy duty metal panel taken from part of the original water tanks. This will now be engraved into a commemorative plaque. An appropriately combustible ritual for what promises to be a key crucible for creativity.