The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Our first involvement with this project was being part of the team with Gareth Hoskins Architects that won the Master Plan Competition. Originally built in two phases, the building has undergone numerous alterations and extensions resulting in a myriad of differing historical engineering design approaches, forms, material specifications and detailing. For this project, the alterations to the Category A listed Victorian building were dramatic, including lowering the basement floor level, removing most of the walls that held up the masonry vaults and supported the floor of the above atrium, and forming new openings in the front elevation at basement level.

The engineering work undertaken for this project revolved around five main areas:

1. Basement and Grand Gallery: The entire basement floor was lowered with large structural interventions, removal of full length supporting walls, remodelling of masonry vaulted areas, underpinning and buttressing works. The desire to increase visitor flow up the lightly framed Grand Gallery atrium space necessitated the introduction of glazed lifts and large stairwells. New entrances allowing level access from Chambers Street required major propping and needling along with tying of the masonry vaulted ground floor.

2. North-South Route and Lecture Block alterations included escalator installations and extensive remodelling of the existing main staircase area into an open atrium with link bridges and a new fire fighting stair.

3. Galleries: This involved the infill of existing open-stacks to create long clear-span spaces. Strengthening of the new loading bay floor slab was required to take an articulated lorry. A complicated 3D model of the structure for the gallery infills was created to study the interaction between new and existing frame elements.

4. The Enabling Works required the insertion of two new fire fighting stairs and lifts and the realignment of major M&E services, all whilst the museum was still operating.

5. The Granton Storage Building is a new build steel frame required to house most of the decanted artefacts during the building works.

Ben Adam was the Lead Engineer and internal project manager for the project. Colin Eastwood was one of the original Project Engineers who took over the site overseeing role once the main basement alterations were completed. The project budget was strictly controlled with the structural works brought in on budget to meet the stringent requirements of the main funding bodies, HLF and the Scottish Government. Working with existing buildings often throws up unknowns, which can be the cause of difficulties in terms of both programme and budget. Through careful control of resources and by investigating the building thoroughly at an early stage, we were able to control unknowns to the extent that the structural works were brought in on budget.

Colin also worked on the installation and new support works for the larger exhibits, as well as some new museum features. One of these features is the 'Window on the World', which is a particularly striking feature within the central Grand Gallery. Several hundred exhibits showcase the diversity of the museum's collections and include a gyrocopter, whale bones, a railway signal, and the iconic Stephenson 'Rocket' locomotive. Two 20 metre tall steel frames were designed to house this wonder wall. The 'Array' is another new feature, suspended from the trussed arched roofs of the gallery that formerly housed the blue-whale skeleton. By strengthening the arches we have allowed a large range of animals to be suspended overhead, creating a mobile.

Opening up the building has brought new life to a much loved Edinburgh institution. Within one month of reopening the museum attracted over 500,000 visitors, far surpassing anticipated visitor targets.


RIBA Award Scotland 2012 - Winner