The Lowry is one of the UK’s leading arts organisations and home to one of the most ambitious artistic programmes in the industry. As well as being the most visited cultural attraction in the North West, The Lowry also plays an important role on a local level – engaging with around 35,000 people each year from its local communities through programmes that nurture talent, develop skills and employability and inspire community regeneration.
The complex was designed by Michael Wilford with structural engineer Buro Happold and constructed by Bovis Construction. Groundbreaking took place on 19 June 1997. The Lowry is built on a triangular site at the end of Pier 8 and has a triangular plan. A promenade encircling the building provides views of the Manchester Ship Canal, MediaCityUK and the Salford Quays developments.
The foyer faces the public plaza, where there is a large aerofoil canopy at the entrance clad with perforated steel and illuminated from inside at night. Much of the building is clad in stainless steel and glass.
The Lowry was described as “not quite ‘Salford’s Guggenheim’ … It is ultimately too small and too well behaved … although there are obvious shared aims”, a reference to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which was built for similar reasons.
The Lowry footbridge spanning the ship canal was designed and project managed by Parkman, with design support from Carlos Fernandez Casado. It is a lift bridge with a clear span of 100 metres (330 ft), which lifts vertically to provide a 26-metre (85 ft) clearance for shipping using the canal. The bridge span is a tied arch and the towers are constructed in tubular steelwork to provide an open aspect to view the lifting counterweight and sheaves.
The complex contains 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft) m² of gallery space displaying the L. S. Lowry and other collections. The Lowry collection includes about 400 works in oil, pastel and watercolours from all periods of his career. It was collected by Salford Museum and Art Gallery from the 1930s.
The Artworks Creativity Gallery, designed and implemented by architects Reich-Petch (responsible for developing the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.), uses multimedia to encourage visitor participation and interaction with exhibits to transform gallery space.
Between October 2011 and January 2012 the gallery hosted an exhibition of about 100 works by Lowry’s teacher, Pierre Adolphe Valette, including paintings of Manchester from Manchester Art Gallery and loans from private owners.
An Archive Room houses material related to the artist including books, catalogues of his exhibitions and auctions, press cuttings, tapes of interviews with Lowry and others, photographs and ephemera. The archive is open by appointment.
At the core of the complex are two theatres and a drama studio. The Lyric Theatre has 1,730 seats while the Quays has 466. The theatres host touring plays, comedy and musical events and Opera North. The Lyric Theatre has the largest stage in the United Kingdom outside London’s West End. It played host to the 2011 Royal Variety Performance.
The Daughter-in-Law by D. H. Lawrence, a play in Nottingham dialect, neither published nor performed in Lawrence’s lifetime was revived at the Lyric Theatre in 2012. The Lowry was the venue for the grand final of the BBC quiz show Mastermind in 2003.
The Lyric Theatre has also housed the first and only televised recording of the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which Humphrey Lyttelton chaired just 19 days before his death in April 2008. An edited version aired on BBC Four, and the full edition is available on DVD.
In November 2015, the Lowry opened a new bar and restaurant, called Pier 8, after a 12 week closure on the original bar and restaurant. The new space cost £3m to develop and is part of an ongoing £5m investment programme to improve facilities and reduce the environmental footprint of the complex.
The new features include a zinc topped curving bar with room to seat 150 people for casual dining. The bar also has a feature tree with leaves made from cotton, to commemorate Salford Quays’ history at the centre of the cotton shipping industry. The new restaurant contains seven private booths, a newly designed open kitchen, and a second large room at the rear which can be opened up to accommodate more diners or private functions. Major structural changes have taken place in the building for the design, including the removal of a large staircase and the addition of an external entrance to the bar and restaurant, as well as added areas made to look like shipping containers.