Our Building

Firstsite is renowned for its radical and unconventional building – a spectacular golden crescent that’s a work of art in its own right. This purpose-built gallery was designed by the Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, following a worldwide architectural competition which called for a design that turned the traditional white cube gallery inside-out. Viñoly’s curved design was chosen from more than 100 entries worldwide.

Its low-lying, single-storey design nestles in the landscape, with minimum disruption to Colchester’s historic roofscape and wraps around the existing historic D-shaped garden of East Hill House, leaving intact the established arc of mature trees.

An iconic, golden-clad crescent in the heart of historic Colchester, Firstsite is an international centre for the contemporary visual arts, and also an exciting cultural, social and commercial space for Essex and the region.

You can hire Firstsite’s 180-seat tiered cinema, hi-spec meeting rooms and function spaces for a host of business purposes, including conferences, presentations, and product launches. Firstsite is also available for club and society meetings, and makes a spectacular backdrop to private parties and celebrations.

Rafael Viñoly Architects PC are also creators of the Curve Theatre in Leicester, and the masterplan for London’s Battersea Power Station redevelopment. For more information visit Viñoly’s website.

The site and structure

Firstsite is built on a steel frame, and clad entirely in TECU Gold – a malleable copper-aluminium alloy that had to be applied by hand by a team of 20 plumbers!

The site is Scheduled Ancient Monument land, with archaeological artefacts buried beneath. This meant a ‘no-dig’ policy: conventional foundations could not be dug. Instead, the vast 3,200 square metre building floats on a concrete raft foundation which required no deep excavation.

The site is directly south of the eighteenth-century Grade I Listed East Hill House, which Firstsite faces across a D-shaped garden that lends it its crescent shape, and whose Grade II gothic folly was separated from the house in the mid-twentieth century by the construction of a bus station.

A permanent artwork by Simon Periton is installed in the D-shaped garden. The work, Polaris, is a response to the architecture of Firstsite and our surroundings, and consists of a translucent resin lamppost and three lanterns that hang from the arc of trees on the lawn – the work also references the lodestar used by moths as a tool for navigation.

Views from the gallery to the first-century Roman wall emphasise the historical importance of this ancient structure. Other prominent nearby structures include Grade II Listed 12th century St James’s Church, where priest John Ball, Leader of the Peasant’s revolt of 1381, delivered sermons, and the Minories Art Gallery, a red-brick Georgian townhouse that served as Firstsite’s original home, and which has been a gallery since the 1950s.

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