National Museum of Scotland to unveil radical expansion

EDINBURGH’S National Museum of Scotland is on the verge of the next phase of a radical transformation which will see thousands of brand new exhibits go on display.

A part of the interior of one of the new galleries. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A host of groundbreaking innovations and creations will be showcased in Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction after an extensive new fit-out due to begin within days.

Work to install more than 3500 exhibits drawn from its vast collections will get underway at the Victorian landmark next week under a £14 million project which has been several years in the planning.

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Previously closed-off and little-used spaces are being transformed to make way for 10 new galleries which will become celebrations of science, invention, technology, art, design and fashion from next summer.

An interior of one of the new galleries. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Around 40 per cent more floor space has been created for collections which have been largely hidden away from public view before now, as well as a host of new star exhibits.

Wedgwood plates designed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, the Leith-born artist, an early camera by William Henry Fox Talbot, the “father of photography,” and a state-of-the-art prosthetic limb designed by the firm Touch Bionics will all be on display.

Other highlights are expected to include the Nobel Prize medal awarded to Professor James Black, who discovered beta-blockers and the first anti-ulcer drugs, and Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.

Outfits created by fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood, Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes will be on display, along with work created by celebrated Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and long-time Edinburgh painter Anna Phoebe Traquair.

An interior of one of the new galleries. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Five historic aircraft - including a Tiger Moth biplane, a Slingsby Gull glider and a Piper Tomahawk - will be hung in the middle of the science and technology galleries, where visitors will also be able to see a “Black Knight” rocket and a Bolton-Watt steam engine.

Museums chiefs today confirmed the completion of a host of building and restoration work, which has seen large parts of the museum closed off to the public, ahead of staff moving in to fit out the galleries.

The creation of the 10 galleries is the latest phase of a long-term masterplan, which has been rolled out over the last decade and has already transformed large parts of the 1886 building.

The most recent phase, completed in 2011 after three years of building work, saw the creation of 16 new galleries showcasing more than 8000 exhibits and a dramatic new entrance hall which was created out of former storage spaces.

The £47 million project was credited with helping the National Museum of Scotland become the most popular visitor attraction in the UK outisde London.

Museum director Dr Gordon Rintoul said: “When I arrived at the museum in 2002 it was clear that we needed a plan to transform the original building, which clearly wasn’t going to be delivered overnight and we started work on the masterplan the following year.

“We are actually creating as much exhibition space for our collections with this latest phase as we did four years ago.

“The spaces we are transforming feel a lot bigger than they did before because they were either bricked up or closed off or used for other things like storage.

“Around 75 per cent of the exhibits we will be putting on display have simply not been seen for generations and some exhibits that have not been on public display for more than a century.

“I think when people visit the new galleries next year they will be quite surprised at what is on offer. Our impression is that people don’t realise how much space we have been working on.”

The 10 new galleries, which the Heritage Lottery Scotland is ploughing £4.8 million into, will be unveiled in time to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victorian building’s official unveiling.

A final phase of work is planned to be carried out over the next three years to create two new galleries to showcase the NMS collections of ancient Egyptian and East Asian collections.

Dr Rintoul added: “Completion of the construction phase is a significant milestone in the project to create these new galleries, and also for the wider 15-year masterplan to both restore and transform the museum.

“It continues our work to restore the Victorian grandeur of the building whilst at the same time creating dramatic, engaging and cutting edge displays for a 21st century audience.”