Q&A with James Robinson

New-look Burrell Collection set to reopen in 2020
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Eleanor Mills
The Burrell Renaissance project to renovate the Burrell Collection in Glasgow started in 2016, and the venue will remain closed until the work is completed in 2020.

The Burrell houses the 9,000-strong collection of shipping magnate Sir William Burrell (1861-1958), who amassed all sorts, from rare Chinese porcelain to modern masterpieces by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne. In 1944, Sir William and Lady Burrell signed the Deed of Gift of their collection to the City of Glasgow, specifying that it was housed in a building 16 miles from the centre of Glasgow, so the works could be appreciated in a beautiful rural setting.

That’s where the collection has remained, with the site opening in 1983. But the building has needed attention for some time. Since the Burrell closed for refurbishment in October 2016, visitors can see part of the collection on show at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in central Glasgow. Currently on display are a number of works by Joseph Crawhall, one of the Scottish artists whose work Burrell collected prolifically.

Here, James Robinson, the director of the Burrell Renaissance project to renovate the Burrell Collection, talks about the refurbishment and the new-look building.

Why is the Burrell Collection being refurbished?
The refurbishment and redisplay of the Burrell Collection will see the museum undergo its most comprehensive modernisation since opening to international acclaim in 1983. The scheme has been shaped by a need to address the environmental strains on the current building, a wish to respond more meaningfully to works held in the collection, and by a desire to engage further with the Burrell’s unique setting of Pollok Country Park on the outskirts of Glasgow.

The overhaul of the building’s interior will allow a greater proportion of the collection to be accessible to the public. All three floors of the museum, including the lower ground floor stores, will be opened to the public for the first time. The creation of a dedicated space for special exhibitions and the conversion of offices into galleries will open up the footprint of the museum while maintaining the quality and integrity of the building.

Visitor orientation will also be addressed. The existing lifts and stairs are no longer compliant with all current legislation so the addition of a new central access core will encourage flow and movement across all three levels of the building.

Although remedial repairs have been carried out in recent years, a major overhaul is now required, which will see the envelope of the building and all plants and systems replaced. The present building remains entirely electrically powered with equipment that is becoming increasingly expensive to operate. Thermal energy loss is especially high with the original glazing no longer meeting display and conservation standards required by world-class museums today.

As well as overhauling the roof of the building, the proposed refurbishment programme will deliver sustainable solutions to reduce onsite energy costs, transforming the Burrell from a building with a large carbon footprint, into an energy efficient, modern museum.

As well as the refurbishment of the building, the Burrell Renaissance project will improve settings for objects while staying true to the original concept of the museum, whereby the displays themselves complement the surrounding architecture. The redisplay will also allow us to provide a richer interpretation of the collection, greatly enhancing access to the 9,000 works within the Burrell.

How much funding has the Burrell Collection secured so far?
The fundraising campaign has generated well over £2m in the past 12 months, with more than 100 individuals supporting the project to ensure its success. Alongside Glasgow City Council recently approving funding of up to 50% of the project costs, totalling £27.3m, the WM Mann Foundation also announced support of £100,000 towards the refurbishment. In addition, the Heritage Lottery Fund has pledged support of £15m for the project (subject to approval) and the UK Government committed £5m to the project in 2015.

What changes can visitors look forward to in the refurbished building?
For the first time, all three floors of the building will be opened up, including the museum’s stores, allowing much more of the collection to be displayed and enjoyed by visitors. As well as improved facilities, cafe and retail opportunities, the Burrell will capitalise on its unique setting of Pollok Country Park.

The re-interpretation of the collection’s diverse treasures will tell a much more complete story about their significance and how they were collected. By creating greater access to the collection, both physically and intellectually, we will be able to show previously unseen works, and extend the reach of this extraordinary world-class museum.

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