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Facade in autumn

Facade in summer

Gallery entrance on Narrow Quay

Gallery space during an event

Exhibition detail in gallery

Foyer gallery space

Curved ceiling in staircase

Skylight above stairs


16 Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4QA


Constructed early 18th century. Unused since early 20th century. By 1970 left derelict and gutted by fire. Conversion to Architecture Centre completed September 1996.


Original architect unknown. Conversion by Niall Phillips Architects.


Georgian sail loft

Listed Status



Georgian sail loft

Original Function

Sail loft

Building type

Sail loft

Visitor Access

Open to the public:
Wednesday to Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday, 12 – 5pm


Architecture Centre

Know Your Place

Key Facts

  • Rare example of Georgian industrial architecture on Bristol’s medieval quayside.
  • Probably Bristol’s last surviving sail loft.
  • Skilful repair and re-use of dilapidated Georgian industrial building.
  • Now a showcase for architecture and the built environment.

Number 16 Narrow Quay – now the Architecture Centre – is an attractive 18th century former warehouse in the heart of the regenerated harbourside. This three-storey building was used as a sail loft but stopped making sails in the late 19th or early 20th century. It then remained empty and redundant for several decades, becoming increasingly dilapidated.


In the 1990s the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture obtained funding (largely from the Arts Council, donations and an Architectural Heritage Fund loan) to restore the building to house the Architecture Centre. This Centre is a charity that promotes good design and engages the public with architecture and the built environment through exhibitions, events and learning programmes.


The restoration architects, Niall Phillips, were experienced in working with historic buildings and also redeveloped the Youth Hostel next door. Their Architecture Centre conversion kept the down-to-earth maritime character, and even fire-damaged beams and wooden supports, adding subtly modern touches such as the quirky external balconies whose shape suggests the ribs of a ship. The lift, service core and stairs were fitted with minimal disruption to the original structure with the architect’s main intervention being the top lit slot containing the stairs.

By 1970 the building had suffered long neglect and two fires in the 20th century. In 1986 a planning proposal was submitted to demolish it and redevelop the site as retail units and offices, four storeys high. This was rejected by Bristol City Council (who by now owned the building) with the support of local conservationists.


The chief planning officer at Bristol City Council offered the building to the Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture as a potential site for its proposed centre. The Council was prepared to leave it un-let for several years whilst funds were raised. They felt it was vital to keep the last remaining dockside warehouse and were unhappy that the proposed redevelopment jarred with its surroundings.


After its 1996 conversion the building has become a significant asset to the area. The Architecture Centre opened to the public on 11 September 1996. It currently comprises an intimate, welcoming ground-floor gallery and rented-out office space on the upper floors.

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