Architecture: A wry expression on the face of an old friend: Red-brick Victoriana did not get a look in at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. Rowan Moore reports

MOST of the anguish surrounding modern architecture concerns its public face. Confined to natty shops and restaurants, no one minds modernism's directness and lack of disguise. When it appears in the cherished centres of great cities, everyone starts to howl. 'Carbuncles' and other facial metaphors are bandied about.

The Headrow, Leeds, is just such a city centre. It is dominated by the Victorian Town Hall which, clock-towered, columned and overripe, amply meets expectations of what a public building should be.

It is on this stage that Leeds's newest public building makes its appearance. If The Headrow is the city's Trafalgar Square, the Henry Moore Institute, joined to the City Art Gallery, is the equivalent of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. But if the latter applied heavy make-up to avoid criticism that it resembled a carbuncle on the face of an old friend, the former's public face enriches its setting without cringing before its forebears. It has a facade, but it is not cosmetic.

Opening this week, the Henry Moore Institute is the most conspicuous work so far of the Henry Moore Foundation, which has raised a capital fund of about pounds 50m from the sale of Moore's works. It is a place for the display and study of sculpture and although named after the most famous alumnus of Leeds College of Art, its aim is to promote sculpture in general rather than Moore's own work. Its impressive opening exhibition, Romanesque Stone Sculpture from Medieval England, opens tomorrow.

The architects are Jeremy Dixon, Edward Jones and Building Design Partnership. Dixon and Jones also designed the foundation's research centre beside Moore's old studios at Perry Green in Hertfordshire, a project heavily criticised by Moore's daughter.

The history of the institute has been more peaceful, although the local planners had to be persuaded away from their penchant for red brick and Victorian detail. The evidence of this bias is everywhere, in portly, rubicund office blocks built during the Eighties boom. They evoke the city's Victorian might, but end up suggesting a diminished present.

At first sight, Dixon might not appear the best person to challenge this particular brand of facade-making. More than a decade ago he founded his reputation on a street of brick houses, in a style part-Victorian and part-Dutch, which launched a torrent of inferior imitations. He then won a competition to extend the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden with a design which, deferring to Inigo Jones's Piazza, was unashamedly neoclassical. This victory turned out to be Pyrrhic, since the project has entrapped its architect in an energy-absorbing purgatory of controversy and funding problems. And the chances of the extension opening this side of 2000 are diminishing.

Because of this, the Henry Moore Institute is Dixon's first significant building for a decade. Architectural diffidence towards such a project would have betrayed the memory of Moore so any past preference on the part of Dixon or the city's planners for a decorative variation on the 19th- century theme was out of the question. Sir Alan Bowness, the former director of the Tate who now directs the Henry Moore Foundation, points out that sculpture, thanks mainly to Moore, is among Britain's greatest contributions to 20th-century art and that 'generations of sculptors carry Moore's self-confidence'. That self-confidence needed to shine through in the building of the institute.

In fact, Dixon has never been just a postmodern ornamentalist. His early career was spent, along with Edward Jones, designing metallic housing in Milton Keynes and a glass pyramid to house Northamptonshire's county offices. And in a return to his early instincts, the face that the institute presents to The Headrow offers no concession to Victoriana.

If not as craggy as Moore's famous features, it has something of their hewn quality. It is made of granite, with severe, square-cut edges, deep openings and surfaces alternately rough and polished, that accentuate the properties of the stone. It seems carved from a single immense block, like a sculpture. Its colour is black, which, due to decades of ingrained soot, is as typical a colour of Leeds architecture as the bright red of its brick. Here, however, the blackness is ennobled by the polish and precision of the materials.

The facade, sombre and severe, verges on the tomb-like, echoing a nearby war memorial. All museums have about them something of the mausoleum - they are, after all, treasuries for the work of the dead - but this, you might think, overdoes the solemnity.

Yet it is animated as well as solemn. The reflective granite is a mirror of scudding clouds and passing life, and the south-facing steps, like others along The Headrow, fill up with lunching office workers basking in the sun.

The facade also has a domestic as well as a monumental quality. The institute is hollowed out of a row of Victorian wool-merchants' houses, and the facade is attached to what was the unconsidered, sawn-off end of the terrace. Above and about the black granite are the gable-ends and chimney pots of the old houses.

Inside, the visitor is able to move easily about intimate rooms centred on what was a courtyard and is now an airy, cubic gallery that has the robust simplicity of a sculptor's studio rather than the enervating refinement of a museum. The entrance to the gallery features oak panels.

In theory, this assembly of tomb, house, gallery and studio ought to be a mess. The massive entrance ought, too, to work against the institute's ideal of accessibility: Sir Richard Rogers, addressing the same issue, would present a cascade of glass and moving parts. In practice, the building is welcoming. Dixon has realised a difficult balancing act between seriousness and friendliness, old houses and new galleries, and intimate interior and grand exterior. It has the integrity and confidence of a Henry Moore yet also presents a dignified public face. The Headrow has succeeded where Trafalgar Square failed.

The Henry Moore Institute, 74 The Headrow, Leeds (0532 343158).

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future