National treasure looks to future to preserve the past

Since the re-opening of much of the Victorian building in 2011, the National Museum of Scotland has welcomed more than six million visits
Since the re-opening of much of the Victorian building in 2011, the National Museum of Scotland has welcomed more than six million visits
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Landmark museum building goes from strength to strength, with a £14m third phase of restoration to be opened in 2016, says Gordon Rintoul

Scotland‘s architectural heritage is rich and varied, attributes which are perhaps nowhere more evident than at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where cutting-edge architecture and design from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries work together in harmony.

So it is fitting that the museum recently played host to the 2014 Royal Incorporation for Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award. The prize was awarded to Morgan McDonnell Architecture for the Advocates Close development in Edinburgh.

Established in 2002, the award recognises some of the very best buildings in Scotland, and with the architects of the winning building receiving £25,000, it is the largest architectural prize in the UK.

In 2011 the winning building was the National Museum of Scotland, with Gareth Hoskins Architects lauded for their fresh and innovative design for the second phase of our £80 million masterplan to restore the much-loved original Victorian building to its former grandeur.

Opened to the public in summer 2011, this second phase restored much of the 19th century building and presented 16 new galleries exploring the natural world and world cultures.

Our vision was to fundamentally change what we offered visitors, making much more of our striking building and rich collections to reveal our treasures in new ways.

Great architecture can have myriad social and economic benefits, and museum buildings can be exhibits in themselves, attracting new visitors and showcasing collections in different, creative and more accessible ways.

At the National Museum of Scotland as a whole, innovative architecture and design have helped us to display our treasures in a new light and to create inspiring and memorable visitor experiences.

From the airy, light-filled Victorian Grand Gallery designed by Matheson & Fowke to Benson & Forsyth’s castle-inspired new building housing the Scottish galleries, which opened in 1998, architecture and design have always played a key role at the National Museum of Scotland, helping to bring our collections to life for visitors.

Since the re-opening of much of the Victorian building in 2011, the response to the transformed museum has been incredible. It has achieved national and international recognition and has more than doubled its audience, welcoming more than six million visits since re-opening, making it the most popular attraction outside London for the past three years.

We are now looking ahead to 2016, and the completion of the third phase of our masterplan; a £14.1m project to restore the remainder of the original building and open ten new landmark galleries.

These innovative galleries will explore the excitement of scientific discovery and invention, and the creativity of decorative art, fashion and design. They will champion excellence and innovation in design and problem-solving.

The new galleries will be unveiled to the public in 2016; Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. 2016 is also the 150th anniversary of the opening of the museum and RIAS’s centenary, so it is a hugely exciting year for celebrating architecture in Scotland. A key focus in the new galleries will be the national decorative art, design and fashion collections.

For too long hidden away in storage, the amazing riches of these collections will be on show in the restored galleries. Within the displays there will be a strong focus on interior design, whether this is furniture, fabrics or a host of other items.

The work of major architects and designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh will feature strongly in the galleries. Offering compelling and inspiring interpretations of decorative art, design and fashion, alongside cutting-edge science and technology, the new galleries will have a particular focus on Scotland’s globally significant contributions.

This gives the National Museum of Scotland the opportunity to engage with the widest possible audience for the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design in 2016.

We look forward to working with RIAS, the Scottish Government and VisitScotland, among others, to help champion the quality and vibrancy of our architectural heritage and contemporary design, and to celebrate Scotland’s established history of cutting-edge innovation.

Dr Gordon Rintoul CBE, is director of National Museums Scotland.