When Aljira, the hub of Newark’s visual arts community, moved from its loft home of 20 years to a storefront space, the essential question was: What should a gallery for an institution deliberately outside the mainstream of the gallery industry be like? Budget concerns alone closed off conventional approaches to the new space, which had variously been a Chock Full O’ Nuts franchise, a bakery, and a daycare center. Instead, we reduced the strictly codified standards of art display (which even Aljira bought into) to a minimal system: neutral wall, lighting track, and viewer.
Most of our work focused on the neutral wall, which we imagined could become not quite so neutral while still serving its display function. The gallery was already a play of surfaces, as the space had been stripped to its remaining substantial finishes (original plaster, 1930s terrazzo, and 1970s quarry tile) so an abstract display layer could be added back where needed. This new layer is varied in quiet but architecturally meaningful ways, presenting as a skin applied directly to old walls, a thick slab enclosing irregular conditions, or a plane hovering above the existing terrazzo counter base.
In counterpoint to the reticent interiors, the street front expresses Aljira’s energetic public outreach. A code glitch allowed us to cantilever a steel frame 12’ out of the building’s face; painted a startling process cyan, this canopy is an irresistible invitation to passers-by and has become the theme of Aljira’s graphic identity.
A future expansion will open skylights in the rear space and add an office mezzanine, resident artist studio, and media lounge upholstered in speaker fabric.