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Architect sought for visitor centre at Mackintosh's Hill House

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The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is seeking an architect for an ‘innovative and exciting’ temporary visitor centre at Hill House in Helensburgh

Planned to complete in 2017, the project will boost visitor numbers and overhaul ‘outdated’ facilities at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed landmark.

According to the brief: ‘We wish to appoint an architect to design a statement temporary building which complements the Hill House and which is so exciting in itself that it significantly raises the profile of the property and increases visitor numbers to the site.’

Built for publisher Walter Blackie in 1902, the Category A-listed structure is considered the architect’s most famous work after the Glasgow School of Art (GSA).

The iconic grey house – gifted to NTS in 1982 – currently receives around 20,000 visitors a year and runs at a £50,000 annual deficit.

Key issues include outdated displays, limited space within the 425m2 building, a cramped café and insufficient toilets.

The building also suffers from water ingress and a significant restoration programme is expected to see the entire landmark surrounded by scaffolding in the future.

Inspired by the ’brand noise’ surrounding restoration of Mackintosh’s Oak Room, GSA and Willow Tea Rooms, the project aims to double visitor numbers by 2021.

Transformation of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia’s ruined St Peter’s Seminary into a new arts centre nearby, the RIAS 2016 Scottish Festival of Architecture and the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth in 2018 are also mentioned in the brief as key drivers.

’It should be as pioneering as Hill House itself was considered in the early 20th century’

The new building will include an admissions area, shop, kitchen, toilets, offices and interpretation displays.

The brief continued: ‘The temporary building should be as innovative and pioneering in 21st-century terms as the Hill House itself was considered in the early 20th century.

‘The introduction of a temporary building would provide the opportunity to develop a design which is much more adventurous than might be suitable for a permanent building; and which would allow for promotion and attraction of visitors in its own right.’

Proposals for the 250m2 structure should be BREEAM-rated and capable of withstanding local weather conditions for at least five years. A modular building which includes a scaffolding design for Hill House may also be required.

Alan Dickson of Skye-based Rural Design however warned the project risked transforming the landmark into a ‘theme park’.

He said: ‘I would be a bit worried about the aspirations of this project, it mentions the words “so exciting in itself that it significantly raises the profile of the property” four times in the document. I doubt the most important piece of domestic architecture in Scotland really needs much help.’

He continued: ‘I would prefer to see a permanent building that is both quiet and unassuming, and has a very high quality of interpretation that explains this masterpiece well. I wonder if the NTS is getting any serious architectural advice, this project really should be led by an academic institution.’

Applicants must submit a single-page narrative confirming their interest in the project and detailing their design approach and previous experience. Selected applicants will then be invited to tender before a shortlist is drawn up for interviews.

The deadline for submitting narratives is 12pm on 29 April.

How to apply

View the future contract opportunity notice for more information

Contact details

Colin Heppenstall
National Trust for Scotland
Procurement Department
Hermiston Quay
5 Cultins Road
EH11 4DF

Email: procurement@nts.org.uk
Tel: +44 1314580374

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