Building Study: South London Gallery, by 6a architects

6a firestation index

At a derelict fire station, 6a architects has created a sleek contemporary exhibition space while skilfully reawakening the building’s layered past

Believe it or not but there was once a time when London had more fire stations that art galleries. Originally built in 1867, the former Camberwell Fire Station is the earliest surviving purpose-built fire station in the capital. In the two years after its completion, a further 26 stations were built, all following Camberwell’s model to help form what we now know as the London Fire Brigade. 

Yet at the same time London could only boast a handful of dedicated art galleries, the nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery and the National Gallery being among the few. 

Unlikely as it may sound, fire stations and art galleries share a number of similarities. Both have a clear civic purpose. Both present a communal concentration of a specialised skill set. And both seek to bring something to the people, whether it be safety or enlightenment. As the Victorian philanthropist and gallery founder William Rossiter himself described the South London Gallery when he opened it in its current location in 1891, “Its intention is to bring art to the people of south London.”

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