The Vulcan Building
The conversion of the historic Vulcan Building to a contemporary art gallery in 2006 represented the first time that the public were granted access to this former naval storehouse, which was constructed by the Board of Ordnance in 1814.
Built in red brick with grey lintels, the Vulcan Building was by far the most striking structure in the whole of Portsmouth Harbour. As one of the largest storehouses of its day, its importance was reflected by its embellishments, which included pediment and a central clock tower.
The building’s original incarnation as a storehouse would be short-lived, as the Gunwharf Quays area (then called HMS Vernon) became increasingly demilitarised, and over subsequent years the structure was put to a variety of uses including makeshift offices for the Mining School during the First World War. The Vulcan Building gradually began to fall into disrepair, with its prominent clock tower, and north wing being burnt out in the blitz of 1941. Nevertheless, military personnel continued to work in the building until the 1980’s when it was finally closed.
In 1995, The Millennium Commission announced the Portsmouth Harbour Millennium Project, set up to regenerate the historic Gunwharf Quays area, which now boast shops, restaurants and the famous Spinnaker Tower. As part of this scheme, the Ministry of Defence sold the Vulcan Building to developers Berkeley Festival Waterfront Company, who then went on to rebuild the destroyed north wing and clock tower.
aspex started negotiations with Berkeley Homes to take over the building and convert it into a contemporary art gallery in January 2003. In 2004, having secured the support of its funders, the gallery appointed acclaimed architects Glenn Howells to convert the south wing of the Vulcan Building into a series of purpose-designed areas. Following careful consultation with English Heritage, Glenn Howells’ final design for the Vulcan Building received Ancient Scheduled Monument Consent. Construction on the development of the new began in March 2006, working with local construction firm Brymor Contractors Ltd., with the handover scheduled for completion in October the same year.
Opening on 2 December 2006, the conversion of the historic site into a gallery won a prestigious RIBA award and expresses the best of contemporary architecture. aspex at the Vulcan Building is a major destination for Portsmouth residents and visitors alike and is a significant space for contemporary visual art in the South East region.
aspex’s development at the Vulcan Building was supported by Arts Council England,Portsmouth City Council, South East Hampshire Area Investment Framework, Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, Berkeley Homes, Mercers Trust and other generous donors.
You can find out more about aspex’s move to The Vulcan Building in our series of archive articles here.