Architect Malcolm Fraser in frame for Scottish National Gallery revamp

ONE of Scotland’s leading architects has been appointed to head a multi-million-pound transformation of one of the jewels in the crown of Edinburgh’s cultural landscape.

ONE of Scotland’s leading architects has been appointed to head a multi-million-pound transformation of one of the jewels in the crown of Edinburgh’s cultural landscape.

Malcolm Fraser has been charged with masterminding a study into how to modernise the Scottish National Gallery, which holds many of the nation’s premier artworks. Eight years after completing a lengthy project to create an underground link between the Royal Scottish Academy and Scottish National Gallery buildings on The Mound, officials have set their sights on overhauling ageing gallery spaces.

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The key aim will be to transform the basement area in which the Scottish Collection is currently housed. Critics claim that while the upper floors contain masterpieces by world-famous artists such as Raphael, El Greco, Velázquez, Rubens, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Gauguin, the works of some of Scotland’s finest painters have been neglected.

If the revamp goes ahead, it will follow the highly successful overhauls of the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which will be officially reopened by the Queen tomorrow. Although SNG officials will not divulge how much they are budgeting for the project, the museum scheme cost £47 million and the smaller portrait gallery £17m.

Fraser’s practice beat Reiach & Hall, Sutherland Hussey, and Gareth Hoskins, who was involved in the highly successful overhaul of the National Museum of Scotland, in a competition held to find an architect to look at a revamp of the gallery’s Scottish Collection. It is understood a redesign of existing gallery spaces throughout the buildings – rebranded as the Scottish National Gallery last year – is also being looked at as well as revamping the main entrances.

Critics say they expect the Galleries to give much greater exposure to Scottish art once the overhaul, which is expected to take several years to bring to fruition, is complete. Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, Sir David Wilkie and William McTaggart are among the major Scottish artists whose work can be seen there.

One insider said: “The displays of Scottish paintings and drawings at the national gallery has long been seen as a joke. This was always going to be the next priority after the portrait gallery project was completed and I’m sure talks with potential funders are already up and running.

“There are no other major cultural projects in the city at this kind of planning stage and it would be the next major project to come to fruition.”

Officials are also said to be frustrated that the galleries have lacked the showcase entrances boasted by other leading international attractions.

Major new entrance areas were one of the main changes at the National Museum of Scotland when it underwent its recent overhaul.

Another key task for the Galleries will be creating better links between the existing lower galleries and the new facilities opened up by the Playfair Project. This involved constructing a major new side entrance to the A-listed gallery buildings, overlooking Princes Street Gardens, as well as a cafe, restaurant and shop.

Fraser has a strong track record working on major cultural projects as well as helping to revitalise historic buildings. Among his best-known projects in Edinburgh have been the Dance Base complex in the Grassmarket, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Scottish Poetry Library, in the Old Town, and Scottish Ballet’s headquarters in Glasgow.

His practice is already working on plans to transform Lews Castle, Stornoway, into a hotel, museum and heritage centre. Fraser said he was not able to go into detail about his winning proposals until the feasibility project was completed.

But he added: “The presentation of the Scottish Collection attracts frequent and justified criticism. We need to resolve some of the ambiguities and present it better.”

The Galleries said the project was still in its early stages and no decisions had yet been made on funding. The institution managed to raise more than £30m for the Playfair project, with fundraising getting underway in 1999 and the project being unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh in time for the 2004 Edinburgh Festival.

A spokeswoman said: “We have commissioned Malcolm Fraser Architects to conduct a feasibility study into the possible refurbishment of certain areas including the lower galleries which house the Scottish collection at the Scottish National Gallery.

“At the moment, there are no definite plans in place as it will depend on the outcome of this report. This work is still ongoing and an announcement will be made in due course when we are in a position to do so.”