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Purcell completes latest phase of St Fagans National Museum of History

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The renovation of the Cardiff museum’s existing structure is accompanied by a range of new facilities

The redevelopment of a Grade II- listed museum building designed by Percy Thomas Partnership in 1975 is the latest stage of an extensive programme to transform the National Museum Wales, originally founded in 1948. The £30 million Making History project was awarded £11.5 million by the Heritage Lottery fund in 2012, Wales’s biggest ever HLF grant.

The structure is a prominent example of Welsh Modernism. It has been refurbished by Kier Construction and Purcell to double the amount of public space on offer. The old courtyard has been covered, creating an atrium with a new entrance; visitor facilities now include a new reception area, shop and café; and the Weston Centre for Learning includes activity spaces and a lecture theatre providing eight times more space for schools, family and adult learners.

Prior to its listing, some had called for the Brutalist building to be demolished on aesthetic grounds, though it was also unable to meet the demands of a modern museum. During its restoration as much of the original museum building as possible was retained or restored, including the removal of previous additions.

250517 082 philboormanphotography

250517 082 philboormanphotography

Source: Phil Boorman

The project also includes Gweithdy by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, a new sustainable building celebrating the skills of makers past and present, which encourages visitors of all ages to experience traditional skills first-hand. This year, visitors will be able to participate in a wide range of courses and workshops run by skilled craftspeople and artists, as well as visiting the new coffee shop and facilities.

In addition to HLF funding, the museum and private donations have contributed to the project, as well as £7 million awarded by the Welsh government. The museum is still working to raise £1 million to complete the project. In October 2018, new galleries will open in the main building and Gweithdy, combining National Museum Wales’s history and archaeology collections for the first time. The range of objects on display will cover a 240,000-year time span including items from the collection that have never been on display before.

October 2018 will also see the completion of Llys Llywelyn, one of the courts of the Princes of Gwynedd. The reconstruction of the great hall from Llys Llywelyn in Anglesey, north Wales, built around 1200, is one of the most exciting and challenging reconstruction projects attempted in Wales. Once it is completed, school parties from across Wales will, for the first time, be able to stay overnight at the museum.

Architect’s view

It has been hugely rewarding for Purcell to have improved the design of Wales’s most popular museum, and one that contributes greatly to the preservation of the national history and culture of Wales. The carefully considered, and sensitive design puts the visitor’s experience of St Fagans front and centre. I am looking forward to taking my own children to see the finished result.

Lee Griffiths, senior architect, Purcell

250517 040 philboormanphotography

250517 040 philboormanphotography

Source: Phil Boorman

Client views

The complete redevelopment of the main building and the construction of a multipurpose sustainable building are key to delivering our vision at St Fagans, not only to extend the timeline of the stories told at St Fagans but also to be a museum that makes a difference to people’s lives – a place where everyone can share knowledge, collections and skills and importantly make history together.

The Making History project is one of the most significant and innovative heritage projects in the UK. It is a distinctively Welsh – and globally significant – model for museums, one rooted in social engagement and cultural democracy.

David Anderson, director general, National Museum Wales

Following years of hard work and the biggest grant we’ve ever given in Wales, this exciting project to refresh St Fagans and introduce a huge range of new facilities and attractions is well and truly underway, with results beginning to show already.

The fantastic new entrance sets the scene for a wealth of learning and fun within, which over the next two years will be added to even further and help take St Fagans from being one of Wales’s best-loved museums to one that is of international standing. I would like to thank all National Lottery players for helping make this remarkable facility possible in Wales.

Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales

I am delighted to return to St Fagans to see the transformation of the main building and opening of Y Gweithdy, which has been supported by the Welsh Government. Our £7 million investment in this project reflects our ongoing commitment to Wales’s culture and heritage and to using our culture to attract visitors from near and far.

I am confident that these excellent new facilities – which include so many opportunities for visitors to actively engage with Welsh culture – will encourage people of all ages to visit the museum time and time again.

Ken Skates, Welsh economy secretary

216 217 ground floor proposed no annotation

216 217 ground floor proposed no annotation

Ground floor plan



Long section

Project data

Start on site October 2014
Completion March 2017
Gross internal floor area 5,930m²
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Standard building contract 2011, with quantities
Construction cost £13 million 
Construction cost per m2 £2,192
Architect Purcell, Cardiff and Bristol. Partner: Jamie Coath. Architects: Luke Brennan, Lee Griffiths, David Burne, Rhys Waring, Ross Hartland, Smaranda Ciubotaru, Jordan Green
Client National Museum Wales
Structural engineer Arup, Cardiff
M&E consultant Arup, Cardiff
Quantity surveyor Focus Consultants
Landscape architect TEP
Project managers Focus Consultants and Gleeds
CDM coordinator Lee Wakemans
Approved building inspector Cardiff City Council
Main contractor Kier
CAD software used AutoCAD
Annual CO2 emissions 33kg per year (estimate)

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