133 Cumberland Road, Bristol, Avon, BS1 6UX
Built in 1960 and re-designed in 1998
1960 Beard Bennet Wilkins and Partners. 1996 Niall Phillips redesigned the interior and in 2007 the interior structure was redeveloped.
Cast Concrete barrel vault ceilings.
Oil or waxed birch plywood which was used to reference the tea chests once housed there.
Flexible plywood walled studio spaces with 1960s glazing panels used as screens.
Tea packing factory – Brooke Bond tea
1960 Commerce. 1998 Arts.
Tuesday to Sunday
11am to 5pm (during exhibitions)
Weekdays, 8.30am to 5pm
Weekends, 11am to 5pm
Spike Island is a contemporary art centre. The building was originally completed in 1960 for blending and packing Brooke Bond tea but closed in 1990 and fell into disrepair. People puzzled over how to use such a specific tea-packing ‘machine’ for anything else. However, its large, open-plan, well-lit spaces proved perfect for sub-dividing flexibly as an art venue. Work was completed in 1998 by Niall Phillips Architects for a group of artists linked with Artspace.
‘Spike’ contains large exhibition areas and a café on the ground floor and a warren of adjustably sized artists’ studios on the first floor, plus meeting rooms and offices. The central, two-floor-height tea-packing hall is top-lit by a glass barrel vault and now forms Spike’s main exhibition spaces. Glass panels from the 1960s have been reused (now horizontal, previously vertical) to screen off the gallery area and oiled birchwood has been used to echo the texture of the tea chests once housed here.
Back in 1960, choosing this site made sense for Brooke Bond because the city docks were still in use and ships would have unloaded cargo nearby. Closure of the docks (1973–4) and the redevelopment of quaysides around Spike as housing helped to suggest the ‘post-industrial’ changed usage of this building.
Originally, tea chests came in on the ground floor and were taken to the first floor for the unpacking and blending processes. Blended tea passed down chutes to the large assembly hall for filling bags or packets. There proved to be many helpful features here for artists. For example, an accessible ground-floor warehouse and loading bay area, plus other large spaces, proved ideal for moving and making bigger artworks (where welding is needed, for instance).
The project was part of an RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Art for Architecture scheme enabling artists Louise Barber and John O’Connor to work with Niall Phillips on the building’s redesign. Spike’s growing reputation for supporting contemporary art practice led to further funding and redesign work, and a re-launch in 2007. Parts of the building not developed in the initial phase (such as the area with undulating roofs at the west end) were now given over to design businesses and UWE fine art students. This brought together an increasingly large community of creatives under one roof.