Capital’s revamped museum judged best building in Scotland

THE dramatically refurbished National Museum of Scotland has been named the country’s best building just months after it reopened to huge acclaim this summer following a £47 million overhaul.

Scottish architect Gareth Hoskins, first picked to oversee the mammoth revamp eight years ago, won the award for the transformation of the museum which the culture minister, Fiona Hyslop, described as “truly breathtaking”.

Mr Hoskins’ firm won the Andrew Doolan award for the best building in Scotland for 2011. Unusually, the £25,000 prize did not go to a new-build project. But the refashioned NMS has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors since August to admire its 16 new galleries.

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The remarkable overhaul of the Royal Museum building includes the restoration of its Grand Gallery to its Victorian grandeur, including the UK’s biggest single museum exhibit, a “Wall of Wonder” featuring hundreds of objects. The judges citation praised the project’s “big moves” in opening up the museum with accessible street level entrances, the conversion of basement stores into a new entrance hall with shop and café, and new staircases and lifts that draw visitors into the museum.

Ms Hyslop handed over the award at a ceremony in the Scottish Parliament last night, with Mrs Margaret Doolan, the mother of the architect who established the prize.

She said: “Scotland has an international reputation for creativity and innovation, enhanced by the outstanding quality of Scottish architecture. The transformation of the National Museum is truly breathtaking, making this project a worthy winner.”

The prize, overseen by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, ran into controversy this year. Critics and some major Scottish architects, including some of those nominated for the prize, said the shortlist of 13 projects was “absurdly large”.

Seven of the nominees were given “special mentions” yesterday. They included the Phoenix Flowers, a set of giant lighted metal flowers designed to transform a gloomy motorway underpass in Glasgow, which some complained did not qualify as a building at all.

Others ranged from the Hillhead Primary School above Glasgow’s River Kelvin, to a housing block of 27 apartments in Govan and the renovation and reconstruction of the historic Linlithgow Burgh Halls.

The judges said that the 19th century museum building had been “compromised” by additions, partitions and obstructions, blocking enjoyment of its nationally important collections. The project, part of an ongoing masterplan, had “expanded the gallery spaces, restored much of the original architect’s intent and significantly improved access and visitor facilities”.

While visitors were drawn deep into long-neglected back galleries, the “original spatial quality of the building has been brilliantly recovered” with a subtlety that “even some expert critics have failed to fully comprehend.”

The award appeared to vindicate the museum’s decision to hand a major project to a Scottish architect – at the time relatively unknown – rather than an international star name.

Professor Andy MacMillan, who chaired the judging, said. “Every year the submissions for this award demonstrate the superb architectural skills we are blessed with in Scotland. This shortlist was full of subtle, intelligent, beautiful buildings which their users love.”