The New Scottish galleries at the National
Open to the public on Saturday 30 September 2023, the new Scottish galleries at the National have undergone a transformational re-working, to create a fitting new home from which to showcase the nation’s magnificent collection of historic Scottish art.
Hoskins Architects was appointed by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2014, via a competitive tender process, to redevelop the Scottish Collection gallery on The Mound, Edinburgh. The project has delivered a world-class gallery space below the Playfair-designed National building, to display the large collection of historic Scottish works in the national collection.
The project involved extensively reworking the somewhat cramped and dark 1978 Property Services Agency (PSA) designed offices and what was the Scottish Collection gallery. By linking to the 2004 John Miller and Partners Weston Link—which was created as part of the Playfair Project (2000—2004)—the project created new visitor circulation routes to the Grade A listed gallery above. The designs included forming a new façade onto East Princes Street Gardens, as well as extensive landscaping work.
New stone markers signpost the north and south access down to the galleries from the Playfair walkway. The steps leading from Princes Street to the lower level of the Gardens have been widened and a new, gently ramped pathway provides access for those with buggies and mobility issues, for the first time, both to the gardens and to the National’s new gardens level entrance.
A redesigned entrance at the gardens level, now the main entrance, clearly shows the way into the National when approaching from the east, Princes Street and the gardens. This remodelled and widened entrance delivers greater clarity in wayfinding and serves as a fitting entrance to the National.
The reconfigured Gardens Level Concourse has increased the amount of space available for the gallery shop and restaurant. A carefully detailed, top-lit staircase has been opened up from here into the new galleries, providing a clear view of the route to the artworks ahead.
At the top of the new staircase lies a new foyer in front of the Scottish galleries, a key space within the National, bringing various routes within the building together. This generous, contemplative space, referred to as Gardens View, is bounded on one edge by a large picture window overlooking East Princes Street Gardens, allowing the visitor to pause and orientate themself before entering the new Scottish galleries. Standing in Gardens View allows visitors to place themselves within the city and helps them understand where they are on their route. In turn, the window unites this important space with the gardens and the city beyond.
With the very best historic Scottish art, spanning 150 years, being showcased, vastly improved spaces and new lighting allow artworks to be seen as never before, while new windows on the city allow the art to be displayed and interpreted in relation to the historic city context in a modern, carefully controlled environment.
The stunning new, high-quality Scottish galleries at the National almost double the area available for display of the nation's world-class collection of Scottish art, which previously occupied a dark, dated, and disconnected space.
Pre-existing concrete basement structures were reconfigured to simplify the levels required for the galleries to cross the busy railway tunnels below, providing a new, accessible visitor route through the entire gallery.
In conjunction with the new concourse staircase, at the opposite end of the new galleries, an elegant new south stair signposts and unlocks the routes to/from the new Scottish galleries from both the Gardens Level entrance and the Mound Level galleries, allowing for intuitive circulation of the entire suite of galleries at the National.
Existing windows at the south end of the historic Mound-level galleries have been reopened, filling the new stair with light and helping visitors orientate themselves. This bright, enticing presence, visible from the Playfair-designed galleries on the Mound level, advertises the way to the new galleries below, encouraging visitors to continue their journey, and to take in all the National has to offer.
Equality of accessibility is further ensured by the introduction of lifts adjacent to both new stairs. The large, new art lift by the south stair provides accessibility to all levels of the National in the south for both people and, critically, for larger artworks.
These interventions together create a clear, accessible route around the various levels of the whole gallery complex and properly integrate Scotland’s art collection, in a stunning set of fresh and contemporary new galleries, into the overall visitor experience.
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