House of Illustration announces ambitious £8m project for New River Head in Islington


House of Illustration, the UK’s only gallery and education space dedicated to illustration and graphics, has announced an £8m project to redevelop New River Head in Islington, London into the world’s largest public arts space dedicated to illustration.

The renamed Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will be a new cultural landmark for London and the UK that will establish illustration as an art form to be reckoned with.  It will also become a permanent home for the archive of the organisation’s founder, Sir Quentin Blake, with selections from his archive of more than 40,000 works on permanent display.

Work is scheduled to begin in June 2021, with the organisation repurposing four 18th and 19th century industrial buildings and half an acre of surrounding land into exhibition galleries, an education centre, event spaces, plus retail and catering facilities. It is planned to open in autumn 2022. (South view of Engine House and Coal Store & Interior view of Coal Store below)

House of Illustration has already raised over £3 million of its £8 million target, and has recently secured £1 million in financing from the Architectural Heritage Fund through its Heritage Impact Fund to support its first development phase. The balance is set to be raised through individual donations, grants from trusts, foundations and a public fundraising campaign.

House of Illustration’s current site at 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross – which has been closed since March, due to the coronavirus outbreak – will not reopen, in order to focus resources on the development of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

However, House of Illustration will very much remain ‘open’ – its education programme will continue online and through outreach programmes with London school and community organisations while a series of touring exhibitions will travel to venues across the UK.

The historic site of New River Head has remained largely unchanged for nearly 400 years, when it became instrumental in the creation of London’s clean water supply during the 17th century. It includes the atmospheric remains of London’s only surviving windmill and a spectacular19th century engine house.

Following an international competition that attracted the attentions of some 200 practices, Tim Ronalds Architects have been appointed as the lead designers for the project.

Announcing the bold project, Sir Quentin Blake said: “I am enormously proud to have my name associated with this international home for an art which I know and love, and for artists who speak in a myriad of visual languages, but are understood by all. It is going to be amazing.”

Olivia Ahmad, Artistic Director of House of Illustration is equally excited by the potential of the scheme: “We are thrilled to be embarking on a project that will secure a permanent and much-needed public centre for illustration and graphics in the UK and a home for Sir Quentin’s archive. We look forward to expanding and developing our pioneering work that explores the importance of graphic art in our lives, supports emerging creators and empowers people of all ages to use visual communication. We are committed to working with our local communities and societies, Islington Borough Council, Thames Water and our sector to create a dynamic creative space that welcomes all.”