Benson + Forsyth's competition-winning design for Scotland's new national museum is rapidly approaching completion. The museum concludes the series of institutional buildings on Edinburgh's Chambers Street, which began with Robert Adam's university of 1789, and adjoins Captain Fowke's original Italianate Royal Museum of Scotland.
The function of the building is to display and interpret the Royal Museum's Scottish Collection, an ambition in many ways continued in the museum's relationship with the city, and the landscape beyond. The north and west galleries along Chambers Street and George IV Bridge take their line from the surrounding public buildings, matching their height and scale, while the less visible south elevation on the edge of the medieval city offers a more varied and fragmentary experience.
The inner 'Core Gallery' projects above the formal perimeter gallery spaces and culminates in a boat-shaped hanging roof garden from which there are magnificent views to Salisbury Crags, over the south of the city to the Pentland Hills, and north to the Firth of Forth. Randomly coursed honey-coloured Clashach sandstone wraps around the perimeter galleries, while the walls of the core gallery are finished in smooth white sand/cement render.
The new entrance is through a cylindrical tower which echoes the Halfmoon Battery of the castle while simultaneously addressing the junction of five city streets. The arrangement of the galleries reflects the brief's dual ambition of both viewing the collection chronologically while accessing individual components of the exhibition directly, with the earliest settlements in the depths of the basement and the subsequent eras of Scottish history described as you move up through progressively luminous floors. The journey culminates with views from the boat roof. Within this 'promenade' Benson + Forsyth has attempted to place exhibits in their appropriate setting in both time and space: the exhibits range from the 11m-high Newcomen Engine in the vast interior of the core gallery, to the Solemn League and Covenant which hangs beside a small window facing directly into Greyfriars Churchyard, where the pledge was signed.
On the south side of the site, facing Brighton Street, is Gallery 22, former gallery space converted and extended by Benson + Forsyth to contain administrative offices and conservation rooms. It has recently been completed and is now occupied.
The Museum of Scotland opens on St Andrew's day this year - 30 November.
Main photographs by Fred MacMillan
CLIENT The Trustees of the National Museum of Scotland
ARCHITECT Benson + Forsyth (Edinburgh/ London): Professor Gordon Benson, Alan Forsyth, Peter Wilson, Jim Hutcheson, Debby Kuypers, Reza Schuster, Kevin Adams, Catriona Hill, Annabelle Henderson, John Cannon, Iain Carson
QS Davis Langdon and Everest
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Anthony Hunt Associates
M&E ENGINEER Waterman Gore Consulting Engineers
GEOLOGICAL CONSULTANT Arup Facades: Bruno Miglio
MANAGEMENT CONTRACTOR PHASE 4 Bovis Construction (Scotland)
MAIN CONTRACTOR PHASE 3 Laing (Scotland)
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS stonework Stirling Stone Management, Clashach sandstone supplier Moray Stone Cutters, glazing Skytech Forster/ Baydale Architectural Systems