External photo of MK Gallery

Architecture & Expansion

MK Gallery re-opened in March 2019 following a major renovation and expansion. Inspired by the utopian history of Milton Keynes, the building was designed by 6a architects, with artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman. In 2021, the building won RIBA National, South and Project Architect of the Year awards.

The Observer’s ‘Building of the Year 2019’

‘an architectural gem’ – The Telegraph

‘a dream made real’ – The Financial Times

‘utterly, thrillingly Milton Keynesian’ – The Guardian

Sky Room: Room with raked seating with a semi circle large window in the back of the room overlooking park

The Space

The original gallery building opened in 1999 as an afterthought alongside Milton Keynes Theatre. Plans to expand were developed in response to extensive consultation, with key demands for more social spaces, including a café, and a more varied programme to include historical as well as contemporary exhibitions of art and design.

The new building doubled exhibition spaces to 550m2, transformed the former workshop and loading bay into a café, doubled the size of the shop, added the Sky Room – a multi-purpose auditorium with 150 retractable seats – for cinema, events and hires, and a Studio for family, schools and community programmes. The new building is fully accessible with a Changing Places toilet and double sized lift.

Red spiral staircase on outside of the Gallery

The Design

The design of MK Gallery highlights the visions of the founders of Milton Keynes. In typical fashion, the new wing is clad in highly reflective stainless steel while its form reflects the grids and circles that are prominent across the city.

In the exhibition spaces, doorways and windows are aligned to offer a vista that cuts though the ground floor in parallel to the adjacent boulevards. Ducts, pipework and structural elements remain exposed throughout the building in a tribute to the high-tech architectural style that flourished in Milton Keynes in the 1970s.

Strong colours appear across the entire site, based on a chart in a 1970s catalogue by Habitat, whose founder, Terence Conran, was an advisor to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Combinations of these 14 colours, such as Dairy Cream, Candy Pink, Lettuce Green, Pillarbox Red and Honey Brown, have been generated throughout the building.

Inside image of the cafe bar. Red pillars and yellow chairs on a grey floor

The Custard Factory

In the café, these colour combinations coincide with the original designs of the demolished Architects’ Department, known as the ‘Custard Factory’, where all the furniture and furnishings were yellow, while the beams and columns were red.

Upstairs, the Sky Room curtain takes the natural colours from the Habitat chart to conceal the real landscape beyond with an abstract version, from muddy browns through grassy greens to sky blues. The extraordinary view itself reveals the vision of first chief architect for MK, Derek Walker, to create ‘a city greener than the surrounding countryside’.

Adorning the façade of the pre-existing building are signs relating to the city’s early graphic identity, by designers Minale Tattersfield, including the first ever logotype for the city; the Corporation’s first logo, a double-headed axe; and a red heart that symbolised the city centre.

The designs surrounding the building, including the planting schemes, play equipment and street furniture relate to the MK Infrastructure Pack, which provided blueprints for all the city’s design. Positioned by the entrance to the play area outside the Studio is a restored pair of original gates in the shape of hands. Rescued and re-sited, it extends a welcoming hand to a project that celebrates the playful, creative and ambitious vision of Milton Keynes.

Architectural Guide

Learn more in our Architectural Guide, available to pick up for free from the Gallery.