National Museum of Scotland reopens after £47 m facelift

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by a Newsnet reporter

Today the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh re-opens after a £47.4 million facelift.  The project was jointly funded by the Scottish Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donations.

Museum staff admitted that the revamp was long overdue, the floor layout of the grand Victorian gallery was dominated by a café and many important exhibits of world significance were obscured and ignored.

In the dusty Victorian galleries in the old part of the museum some of the exhibits dated to the 1940s and were often no longer in line with current academic thinking and research.  Surveys of the public visiting the museum found that only some 10% ventured into the older part of the building, and often got lost when they did so.   The remaining 90% remained in the new extension, opened in 1998.  

The redesign, which is being hailed as the “most significant redevelopment in over a century”, involved uniting the old and new buildings into one museum.  The three-year programme has seen the restoration of the original Victorian interior, which was inspired by the Crystal Palace.   Former storage areas have been turned into public space, making the National Museum of Scotland one of the UK’s largest museums.  More than 8,000 objects will be on display in the new areas.  80% of these objects have been locked away in storage and out of view of the public for generations.  The refurbished museum will now display over 20,000 objects spread across its 36 galleries.

Exhibits include everything from a life-sized skeleton cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex, to specimens collected by Charles Darwin and awards won by Alexander Fleming, the Scottish discoverer of penicillin, to an early Scottish gyrocopter and ‘dancing hippos’ dangling from the ceilings and working models of steam engines which can be operated by members of the public.

The restored galleries were designed by award-winning Scottish architect Gareth Hoskins and internationally respected exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum.

Gareth Hoskins said: “The National Museum of Scotland has an extraordinary atmosphere, with a wealth of collections housed within some of the most striking and important architectural spaces in the UK.

“Our role has been to develop a considered masterplan for the redevelopment, creating opportunities for expansion and modernisation, while retaining and reinstating the original grandeur of the building.  Visitors will now be able to experience entirely new displays set within the newly revitalised spaces of this wonderful museum.”

The highlight of the new installations must be the Window on the World, the largest museum installation in the UK.  Over 850 objects tell the story of the diversity of the museum’s collections in science and technology, the natural world, the archaeology and cultures of the world, and the history of Scotland.

Sir Angus Grossart, chairman of the National Museums Scotland’s board of trustees, said: “The reopening of the National Museum of Scotland, on time and within budget is a tremendous achievement as importantly it allows us to liberate the strengths of our great collections and mobilise their great potential for dynamic development.

“Our collections tell great stories about the world, how Scots saw that world, and the disproportionate impact they had upon it.

“The intellectual and collecting impact of the Scottish diaspora has been profound.

“It is an inspiring story which has captured the imagination of our many supporters who have helped us achieve our aspirations and to whom we are profoundly grateful.”

Dr Gordon Rintoul, National Museums Scotland director, said: “This is a proud moment in the history of a great museum, the climax of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation through which we have rediscovered our exceptional collections, and breathed new life into a beautiful building.

“The result is a new National Museum of Scotland, a place where the cultures of Scotland and the world meet, and the arts and sciences connect.”

The National Museum of Scotland is situated in Chambers St in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town.  The museum is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm.  Entry is free of charge.