Full steam ahead for capital museum projects - Museums Association

Full steam ahead for capital museum projects

The number of major museum schemes shows no sign of slowing, but they need to be more environmentally friendly
Capital projects
Elizabeth Scott, Dr Sarah Price (Head of Locomotion), and Chris Ayre (Nationwide Engineering) outside the front of Locomotion

We may be in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, but this does not seem to have prevented millions of pounds being ploughed into museum capital projects across the UK. There is a dizzying number of projects under way, with many more in the planning stages.

The Science Museum Group (SMG) is spending heavily across several sites and was recently awarded £14.2m by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport to complete urgent repairs and improvements to Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum.

A view of Power Hall at the Science and Industry Museum

Meanwhile, construction has started on a new collections building at Locomotion in Shildon – a partnership between SMG and Durham County Council. Due to open in November, the space will house an additional 46 vehicles from the national collection including carriages, wagons and locomotives. SMG is also working on a purpose-built storage facility that will open at its National Collections Centre in Wroughton, Wiltshire, in 2024.

Other national museums involved in major capital schemes include National Galleries of Scotland, which will open a suite of galleries at the Scottish National Gallery in the summer.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has three capital projects under way in London: the Young V&A, which will open at the former Museum of Childhood site in Bethnal Green on 1 July following a three-year £13m transformation; the V&A East Storehouse, which will offer public access to the museum’s collections when it launches in 2024; and the V&A East Museum, also in east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which will open in 2025.


For all these projects, as well as the usual challenges of managing complex capital schemes, there are two key issues: rising costs and the impact the building work is having on the environment.

New direction

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NHLF) recently released its new strategy, Heritage 2033. This gives museums a clear steer on what the NHLF will fund. “Our new strategy sets out our intention to invest less in new buildings and more in the restoration and improved energy efficiency of existing heritage buildings,” says a Heritage Fund spokesperson. “While this doesn’t mean a blanket ban on funding new buildings, it means that we are less likely to fund these types of projects, and we will be looking closely at the sustainability criteria of any new-builds.”

Sustainability on the agenda

Tate Liverpool will close for a two-year redevelopment in October – and sustainability is high on its agenda.A spokesperson says: “Tate Liverpool occupies a 19th-century warehouse and opened as a gallery space in 1988 – our spaces were created for a different time with a building that is heavily conditioned and an operation that is energy hungry.

The Tate Liverpool capital development is still at a relatively early stage, but our planned approach is modelled around three key issues: improving the fabric of the building; alternative energy sources; and adapting to the ways people interact with the building.”


Norfolk Museums Service is further down the road with its £15m capital project to redevelop its flagship Norwich Castle site, which should be completed by 2024. Again, sustainability is a key concern.

Sustainability is a major consideration for the £15m redevelopment of Norwich Castle, which is due to be completed by 2024

Robin Hanley, the assistant head of museums at Norfolk Museums Service, says: “As you would expect with any redevelopment, the project plans include lower-energy solutions and improved water management. The team is also looking to mitigate against the impact of climate change on the historic fabric through additional drainage capacity, to help Norwich Castle withstand the impact of increased rainwater levels and extreme freak downpours, which are happening ever-more frequently.”

Hanley says the service is addressing sustainability across the organisation. “In terms of a service-wide approach, working with the Green Tourism Business Scheme and the delivery of Carbon Literacy training programmes has supported the wider teams at Norwich Castle and across Norfolk Museums Service to engage fully with and shape the sustainability work at all of our museum sites,” he says. “In recent months, our established staff Green Team has been redeveloped into a more proactive Climate Action Group, helping to shape discussions, inform policy and processes, and identify and respond to further opportunities.”

An additional challenge for the Norwich Castle project has been increased construction costs. “We saw an uplift in construction steel costs, which was then exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine,” says Hanley.  “This resulted in suppliers updating steel prices almost weekly at one stage.”

Moving home

The Museum of London is leaving its home in a purpose-built building at London Wall to relocate to a site featuring a series of dilapidated market buildings at West Smithfield. The conversion was costed at £337m in 2020.


“Thanks to £7m in new donations from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Schroder Foundation and Family and the Wolfson Foundation, announced last year, we are well on our way to hitting our initial fundraising targets,” says a museum spokesperson. “In light of factors such as inflation and the rising cost of construction, we are continuing to closely monitor our budgets.”

The Museum of London plans to retain 70% of the structure it is moving into in West Smithfield, and to reuse and repair materials where possible

Again, sustainability is a key concern – about 70% of the existing structure at West Smithfield will be retained, and the Museum of London is reusing, repairing and recycling materials where possible. It will also minimise the introduction of new materials and specify natural materials or those with high-recycled content where it can.

A new garden by the museum’s entrance will help to satisfy the Heritage Fund’s desire for future capital schemes to deliver a net gain for nature.

“We are asking projects to seek opportunities to enhance existing habitats and green spaces,” says the Heritage Fund spokesperson. “We will challenge projects that result in the loss of habitats, trees or hedgerows. Projects should not take away from existing green spaces,
for example through the expansion of hard surfacing.”

Another key challenge for museums is the need to balance collection conservation and climate control in an energy-efficient manner. Arts Council England is reviewing the government indemnity scheme, and the Heritage Fund will pay close attention to the outcome of that review in determining what level of requirements will be needed in future buildings.

While the sector shows no signs of weaning itself off capital projects, the schemes being developed will hopefully be less energy hungry and more nature friendly. Conserving and interpreting the past is all very well, but museums need to look to the future as well.

Capital projects

Locomotion (Science Museum Group, Durham County Council), Shildon

  • Architect: AOC Architects
  • Cost: £5.9m
  • Completion date: October 2023

Museum of London

  • Architects: Stanton Williams, Asif Khan, Julian Harrap Architects
  • Cost: £332m
  • Completion date: 2026

National Gallery, London

  • Architect: Selldorf Architects
  • Cost: £25m-£30m
  • Completion date: May 2025

National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Architects: Jamie Fobert Architects/Purcell
  • Cost: £44m
  • Completion date: June 2023

Norwich Castle (Norfolk Museums Service)

  • Architect: Feilden+Mawson
  • Cost: £15m
  • Completion date: spring 2024

Scottish National Gallery (National Galleries of Scotland), Edinburgh

  • Architect: Hoskins Architects
  • Cost: £22m
  • Completion: summer 2023

Young V&A, London

  • Architect: De Matos Ryan
  • Cost: £13m
  • Completion: July 2023

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