The Whitechapel Gallery in East London is a historic space. To name just two of its many firsts: it played host in 1939 to Picasso’s Guernica (its first and only showing in the UK) and in 1961, premiered Mark Rothko in Europe, setting the blueprint for the installation of the artist’s work for all subsequent shows.

Whitechapel

See more images from our hardhat tour of the bigger, better Whitechapel gallery
Come April 2009, a new improved, 78% bigger space will open, following the acquisition of the Passmore Edwards Library next door and overhaul of both buildings. The £13.5 million campaign has been overseen by Director Iwona Blazwick (who signed the contract to buy the library in her first week as Director) and masterminded by Belgian architects Robbrecht en Daem.
So what’s on offer? It’s more a case of what’s not. The original, renovated spaces will host major retrospectives (the first is of German sculptor Isa Genzken) and the ground floor – formerly the reading room - will be dedicated to an annual commissioned installation, sponsored by Bloomberg (Goshka Macuga is the first to take it on).
In the absence of The Whitechapel’s own permanent collection, the Victorian glass-ceiling gallery on the first floor will show public and private collections, alternating each year, starting with that of the British Council.
The Passmore Edwards Library will have a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, an archive collections gallery and reading room on the first floor, a study studio on the second and the top floor will be a creative studio. And as if this weren't enough, the gallery will even have its own tube station - well, a newly refurbished entrance to Aldgate East anyway.
A hardhat tour of the site this morning gave a glimpse of what the structure might look like, which, even through the rubble, wires and strip lighting, is charming. But with just five months left till the scheduled opening date and droves of workmen swarming the site it’s definitely a case of watch this space…