The Architecture Centre team is most well known as the organiser of Bristol Open Doors, a weekend festival which gives behind the scenes access to some of the city’s most intriguing and inaccessible buildings.

This year the team has set out to transform its building on Bristol’s Harbourside into a centre for design for the city, creating a new café bar, cultural and education space in one of the harbour’s most historic buildings.

Find out more about The Architecture Centre’s plans for the future and how you can support them in this guest article, as well as how the centre came to be.

The Architecture Centre team

The beginnings of The Architecture Centre

16 Narrow Quay was previously a sail loft, but stopped making sails in the late 19th into the early 20th century. The building remained empty for many decades, becoming increasingly dilapidated following two serious fires.

In the 1990s the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture obtained the funding to restore the building and house the new Architecture Centre. Architects, Nial Phillips, who also redeveloped the neighbouring Youth Hostel, transformed the burnt-out sail loft into a gallery and office space, preserving its sturdy maritime character and charred wooden supports and beams.

And so, the Architecture Centre opened its doors to the public on 11 September 1996. Becoming the first architecture centre in the UK, outside of London.

Since then, the Architecture Centre has continually delivered on its mission to encourage the understanding and enjoyment of architecture and the wider built environment, and to be the champions of better building and places for everyone.

Support The Architecture Centre’s next transformation

To celebrate its 25th year, The Architecture Centre is crowdfunding to raise £25,000 to transform its home once more, turning it into a vibrant home for design and placemaking. The building will offer new spaces to learn and debate the direction of the city, and the wider region, showcasing the work of our architects and giving a place for young people to have a voice in planning and design.

The transformation will see the building opened to the public with a new design-themed café and bar, called The Architect. The interiors of the new bar have been designed by Gemma Randall, Production Designer and Art Director, whose work can be seen on the stunning His Dark Materials and War of the Worlds. Outside, a new terrace will be built on the Harbourside with views of Pero’s Bridge and the Floating Harbour.

Transformation plans for Bristol's Architecture Centre

The first floor will become the cultural heart of the venue with the space kitted out to host regular events about the design of our cities, homes and neighbourhoods, as well as being the control room for Bristol Open Doors where 1,000 volunteers come together to make the well-loved festival happen.

The first floor will also house the charity’s Shape My City programme, an award-winning diverse talent acceleration programme for 15 to 18-year-olds from across the region. The programme enables students to learn from and work alongside diverse inspirers from leading companies.

Rewards for being a Crowdfunder

Crowdfunding rewards range from a drink on the newly created terrace, to naming of the new education floor and an annual pass to the talks programme. There are also limited opportunities to name a seat or engrave one of thirty bespoke diamond-shaped brass tiles and become a permanent fixture of the building. Individuals and businesses can also sign up to become a member and attend regular talks and events at the new venue or online.

Dr Anna Rutherford, Director at The Architecture Centre, explains: “Design has a profound effect on all of us every day, from the design of our commutes to our communities, of our homes to our hospitals and green spaces. We’re asking you to join us to create a new venue on the harbour, a place for people, politicians and professionals to come together to shape our city and our region. Help us raise the final £25,000 the charity needs to bring this new venue to life.” 

Donate before the Crowdfunder ends at 8pm on 1 June. 

Bristol Open Doors 2021

Bristol Open Doors will return this year from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th September, with a programme of exploration of special buildings and hidden spaces, from boats, caves and bridges, from both pioneering new developments and from community groups with a story to share.

This year local historians and creatives will lead tours to reveal a story of the city. This year’s festival themes range from culture and creativity, voyage and travel, to exploring the city’s regeneration and innovation.

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Design West is a lively new venue for design and placemaking on Bristol harbourside, home to talks, events, education programmes and the co-ordinating hub for Bristol Open Doors.