A home found on Narrow Quay

This October the Architecture Centre celebrates completing its mortgage loan with Triodos Bank

In 1996, the Architecture Centre was set up to celebrate architecture and quality design in Bristol. To sustain its remit and create a home for its work, the founders of the charity negotiated a loan with Triodos Bank and bought the site at 16 Narrow Quay. A burnt-out sail loft, this derelict Harbourside warehouse has now become the home of the Architecture Centre and sits at the heart of Bristol’s thriving culture scene.

The three-storey building on 16 Narrow Quay was previously a sail loft but stopped making sails in the late 19th century. It then remained empty for several decades, becoming increasingly dilapidated and suffering two serious fires. In the 1990s the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture obtained funding to restore the building to house the new Architecture Centre. Architects Niall Phillips transformed the sail loft into a welcoming gallery and office space, preserving its sturdy maritime character and charred wooden supports and beams.

The building opened its doors to the public on 11 September 1996 as the new Architecture Centre, the first purpose-built architecture centre in the country. The impetus for the Centre originally came from the architectural community, who founded the charity The Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture when the school of architecture closed down at the University of Bristol. Feeling a void of architectural debate in the city, the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture campaigned to create an event hub and exhibition space. After many years of planning and fundraising (largely from the Arts Council, donations and an Architectural Heritage Fund loan), the charity was able to secure 16 Narrow Quay on a long lease from Bristol City Council.

Speaking of the Centre’s beginnings, founding chairman David Mellor recalls;

“The Architecture Centre was set up with the objective of promoting better buildings and places to make a difference. In the 1990s, architecture centres began to spring up in cities around the world, their mission to engage and inspire everyone in the design of buildings and places.”

Now after 21 years at the forefront of architectural public engagement – and as one of the few remaining centre’s in the UK – the Architecture Centre is delighted to complete its final loan payment to Triodos bank this October; finally owning the home it has occupied in the heart of Bristol for over two decades. The soon-to-be asset of the Centre will no doubt help secure the future of the Centre’s work and shows a confidence of the original founders in the longevity of the organisation and the long-term commitment to the centre’s remit.

Looking to the future and what this momentous occasion means for the Centre, director Sarah James explains;

The Architecture Centre’s founders had the foresight and vision to purchase 16 Narrow Quay over time and ensure the future resilience of the organisation by securing its home, its base and a hub for placemaking. However, as a 21st century cultural organisation, we need to remain current and meaningful for both the professional sector and local communities; hence we will ensure we don’t become locked within our gallery walls but continue to work in wards across Bristol and across the South West. We will continue to collaborate with artists, creatives, planners and architects in order to engage and inspire the widest possible audience in the built environment and enable everyone to have a say and make decisions about their local city and community.”

Triodos bank’s involvement is also greatly important. In 1998 the Architecture Centre became one of the very first Bristol-based loans granted by Triodos bank. A socially conscientious institution Triodos’ mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change. The loan to the Architecture Centre is testament to this commitment and, twenty years on, the end of the loan is certainly cause for celebration. In completing the loan Triodos have enabled a not-for-profit cultural organisation to begin a new chapter in its work. We often talk about the beginnings of investments; of supporting start-ups when they first look for investment, however the story of the Architecture Centre’s final payment, of the outcome of a loan twenty years later, is a very important one – showing how through initial loans organisations gain long term independence.

Not just a mortgage provider to the Centre, Triodos bank have also supported the Centre’s Bristol Doors Open Days festival in recent years. For the last two years the bank’s headquarters in Bristol have opened their doors to the public for free building tours and talks, welcoming everyone into the Bank and showcasing its open and inclusive banking operations.

Befittingly the Architecture Centre, after 21 years championing the value of architecture and place, now owns its very own home. To celebrate, the Architecture Centre is hosting a two month pop-up shop entitled HOME, highlighting the places we live and the creative objects that make our abodes unique. In partnership with Made in Bristol, HOME also profiles other local creatives. Everything on sale has been designed and made in the UK including a range of products exclusively produced by Made in Bristol, inspired by the city. To visit the Centre and pop into the shop, check the gallery opening hours – www.architecturecentre.org.uk/visit/.