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Competition: National Railway Museum Central Hall

National Railway Museum, York
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A design competition has been launched for a new £16.5 million Central Hall at the National Railway Museum in York

The two-stage competition – organized by Malcolm Reading Consultants on behalf of the Science Museum Group – will select a team to create a 4,500m² structure connecting two existing exhibition spaces at the popular visitor attraction.

The £16.5 million project will improve connectivity and create a new ‘appealing and compelling arrival experience’ between the museum’s Great Hall and Station Hall. At least five teams will receive a honorarium of £30,000 each to participate in the competition’s second stage.

Judith McNicol, director of the National Railway Museum, said: ‘It’s hard to over-state the importance of the Central Hall to our future. It will bring unity to our site, connecting historic buildings, and providing a stunning new welcome to our museum for audiences from around the world.

‘But perhaps more important than the functional role it will play, the Central Hall will be at the heart of our mission to make a telling contribution to the contemporary rail renaissance. It will be a place where we can showcase the cutting-edge innovations of today alongside the engineering triumphs of the past. A place where we can inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists, inventors and problem solvers.’

Karen Livingstone, Science Museum Group director of masterplan and estate, said: ‘We have a proven track record in delivering excellence in architecture and design across the Science Museum Group that has had a significant impact on the way our visitors engage with our collections and transforms their experience of visiting our museums.

‘The brief reflects the level of our ambition and this commission is an extraordinary opportunity to create an exemplary and sustainable building, bringing coherence to an important historic site.’

Malcolm Reading, competition director, said: ‘This is a project which promises to transform the museum’s physical identity and re-launch it for the next 50 years. It is an opportunity to create an outstanding piece of architecture that speaks to the adjoining galleries and the wider regeneration of York Central.’

The commission follows a review of timescales and phasing for the museum’s Vision 2025 regeneration masterplan. It comes a year after the museum abandoned an earlier search for a design team for a major £12 million overhaul of its Great Hall after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a funding application.

Last week, the Science Museum Group announced it is recruiting a design team for a £3 million ‘Wonderlab’ gallery at the National Railway Museum. Additional design contracts are expected to be announced over the coming months.

The National Railway Museum opened in 1975 on the former 8.1ha site of the York North Locomotive Depot. It features more than 100 power cars and 200 other items of rolling stock. The museum is the largest of its type in the country and has 750,000 visitors a year.

Items on display include Stephenson’s Rocket, the record-breaking Mallard and the only Shinkansen Bullet Train outside Japan. Last year the museum shelved its search for a design team to revamp its 8,300m² Great Hall exhibition space, which has changed little since the museum opened.

The previous Great Hall scheme was intended as the first phase of a wider regeneration masterplan for the city-centre museum scheduled to finish in 2025 but was put on hold after failing to achieve Heritage Lottery Fund support.

The latest project, focussing on the creation of a new Central Hall, will create a landmark new entrance space featuring a 1,000m² gallery intended to boost visitor numbers at the attraction to 1.2 million every year.

Five finalists will receive £30,000 to draw up design concepts during the competition’s second phase. Shortlisted proposals will be exhibited in February and an overall winner will be announced in March.

The deadline for applications is 2pm on 16 October.


How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information



Karen Livingstone, Science Museum Group director of masterplan and estates

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

Source: Image by Science Museum Group

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

Why are your holding a contest for a new Central Hall at the National Railway Museum?

We are required to hold a contest under public procurement regulations, but we also believe that if contests like this can help find the right creative partners to match our brief and ambitions. We expect to receive very different responses and interpretations, and the terms are open enough to encourage a wide range of submissions.

This is a very different project to the proposal we submitted to the HLF last year and is a cornerstone of our masterplan – and of the wider York Central development. York Central has outline planning approval which includes a new building on the site. Funding is secure to appoint the design team and progress design work and having a winning team and design concept will help complete fundraising for the masterplan.

What is your vision for the new entrance space?

The Central Hall competition is an emblematic project within our Vision 2025 strategy. The new building will be central to our mission to reveal wonder and inspire futures. The building’s showpiece spaces will enable us to tell the compelling story of the current resurgence in railway technology as well as introducing visitors to our collection.

The project must be welcoming to all our communities. Sustainability, wellbeing, access and inclusion are all fundamental deliverables in this brief, and we are looking for innovative solutions and proposals. It is essential that the final building respects and celebrates York’s historic character and that of the railway heritage across the site.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are very interested in smaller emerging practices; we are seeking an integrated team and the lead consultant needs to be an architect. We hope to see interest from integrated design teams that can demonstrate exceptional design talent and creative flair to create an outstanding, contemporary and original design.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We’ve had a very busy month – this is the second of two big launches in the last month. We’ll be focussing on delivering these for now, but future contests will be coming next year – including for public realm and green interventions and some further exhibition design opportunities.

Are there any other recent similar museum expansion projects you have been impressed by?

There is nothing quite like this that I know of. I recently visited the Weston Building by Feilden Fowles at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (on the Stirling Prize shortlist) and was deeply impressed by its human scale, the quality of internal light, material choices, and its emphasis on creating a comfortable environment for people. The client and the architects have also taken an innovative approach to sustainability, challenging the museum ‘norm’ of mechanical environmental control to protect works of art.


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Let’s play guess the shortlist! The usual suspects plus a couple of young upstarts so the commissioning body can claim to be forward thinking whilst making a predictable decision behind closed doors

    Why is the UK so obsessed with prequalification? Is there any real evidence of any benefit in this methodology other than for the consultants employed to manage the process?

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