Royal Museum reveals £70m proposals for transformation of outdated facilities

By 2020, Scotland's Royal Museum will be completely transformed, according to the director of the National Museums of Scotland, Gordon Rintoul.
Jane Morris
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The museum launched £70m plans to refurbish the Victorian building in Edinburgh, redisplay all the galleries and build an education centre in the architecturally undistinguished rear of the building last month. The display space will increase by 20 per cent, and the amount of objects on display will almost double.

The museum stresses that this is not 'change for change's sake' and is designed to attract new visitors - local, national and international. It is also almost certainly necessary if the museum is to retain its existing visitors: while it has important collections and a fine building, some displays are 70 years old and alterations and in-fills have made circulation worse.

The museum also lacks facilities, including a properly equipped education centre, a lecture theatre, and a good cafe, shop and cloakrooms. New research on London museums (see news analysis, p10) demonstrates the need to invest in museums if visitor numbers are not to decline.

The museum has appointed Gareth Hoskins Architects, while Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) is to draw up the masterplan. So far, proposals include 'zoning' the exhibits into science and technology, fine and decorative art, world culture, and natural sciences.

There will also be a new, larger exhibition space, capable of taking a wider variety of national and international touring exhibitions. Detailed work has not started on individual galleries, nor have other designers been appointed.

However, RAA, known for its work on the Holocaust Museum in Washington and New York's American Museum of Natural History, is noted for object- and information-rich displays.

Rintoul said that the project would be phased over 15 years, partly to make raising the £70m more realistic, and partly because the museum will stay open during the refurbishment. The aim is to develop new science and technology galleries first.

'This is the UK's most important science collection, after the Science Museum's, and it is almost invisible,' Rintoul said. The first new galleries will open in spring 2006, with cash from the Rediscover fund.

Jane Morris

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