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Original architect blasts McAslan’s Burrell plans


John Meunier, one of the architects behind Glasgow’s Category A-listed Burrell Collection, has severely criticised a proposed overhaul by John McAslan + Partners (JMP)

In April, Glasgow City Council approved plans by the practice to open up the museum’s lower ground floor stores and create a new entrance, learning centre, landscaping works, a ground-floor entrance to the café and improved retail facilities.

But Meunier, who designed the 1983 building with Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen, has told JMP he has serious worries about the approved changes, telling the AJ that the plans were ‘unnecessarily destructive’ to the original fabric.

In a letter to the practice, Meunier, who is emeritus professor of architecture at Arizona State University, said: ‘I find the new entrance lacking in any architectural merit and it does not seem to produce a new logic of circulation, however much it may resolve practical issues; and I also find the new hub, particularly as illustrated in your rendering, thoroughly confusing and without any dignity, in no way sustaining the seriousness and quality of the original building.’

Planning documents submitted by JMP with the application described the existing gable and entrance wing as ‘very church-like and austere and can often be mistaken for a private building’.

The application continued: ‘This unwelcoming approach is reinforced by the lack of views into the gallery from outside. This intimidating entrance combined with compromised accessibility into and around the gallery makes for a confusing visitor experience.’

But Glasgow architect Alan Dunlop said: ‘The entrance is not confusing and is already obvious. It is certainly not unwelcoming. The sequence, from the Locharbriggs red sandstone gable, through the 14th century Hornby Castle arch, which was part of the Burrell Collection, along the entrance hall axis to the naturally lit courtyard, with the Warwick Vase in the centre and into the main gallery, through another Hornby Castle archway into the main gallery, which is right up to the tree line, is beautifully considered.’

Patrick Lynch, founder of Lynch Architects, has also voiced his concerns about the consented scheme, branding it ‘ill-considered’.

In its response to the original planning application consultation, Claire Price, senior conservation adviser at The Twentieth Century Society, said  the majority of the proposals were ‘necessary and acceptable’.

However, she questionned the addition of the new entrance, which she said would impact heavily on the Hutton Rooms.

Members of The Twentieth Century Society’s expert casework committee, she said, ‘concluded that The Hutton rooms are of the highest significance in terms of the architectural coherence of the building’.

The Burrell Collection, which is located in the suburban Pollok Country Park, is recognised as one of Scotland’s finest post-war buildings. The collection includes Chinese art, late Gothic and early Renaissance art, and several paintings by Edgar Degas.

JMP won the commission last year, ahead of rival bids by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Dixon Jones, Reiach and Hall, Page\Park Architects and Hoskins Architects.

Both JMP and Glasgow Life, the community interest company backing the project and operates the museum, have been contacted for comment.

But in a letter seen by the BBC Paddy Pugh, director of conservation and planning at JMP, said he was sorry to hear of Meunier’s concerns.

He wrote: ‘We have the utmost respect for the building and have, as you know, taken a great deal of care to understand its design intent and significance.

’There is no doubt in our minds that The Burrell fully deserves its recognition and status as a Category A-listed building.’


Richard Marks, keeper of the collection and assistant director of Glasgow Museums between 1979 and 1985, now professor at the Department of the History of Art , University of Cambridge

’Externally the proposals do not look as drastic as I feared. However I’m concerned the proposed new south entrance disrupts the integrity of the overall design. Moreover it removes the only area where the large stained glass panels can be displayed in toto (there was no area designated for these panels originally, but one settled on by Barry and I for this reason). As far as I can see the new entrance involves the destruction of the reconstituted Hutton Castle Dining Room: not only would it ruin the symmetry of the trio of Hutton rooms, but also abrogate Burrell’s stipulation that all three should be incorporated with their fittings and furnishings - unless of course the Trustees regrettably have agreed to the proposal.

’As for the existing entrance arm, I disagree that it is unwelcoming; if there are problems with the internal flow surely the solution is an internal reorganisation of some of the furnishings? Finally, the original concept of a journey of discovery and surprise will be lost (through the entrance arm into the light and space of the courtyard and glimpses of what lies beyond along the north and south walls).

’Fundamentally the problem from the point of view of visitor numbers is the location in Pollok Park – and that will not I suspect go away by tinkering with the exterior.’

Burrell Collection. Image by Finlay McWalter

Burrell Collection. Image by Finlay McWalter

Source: Image by Finlay McWalter

Burrell Collection. Image by Finlay McWalter


Readers' comments (3)

  • It will become clear over the next few days and weeks that a number of esteemed architects and respected academics are deeply concerned about the proposed changes, more than Patrick Lynch and myself and fully support John Meunier.

    With regard to the new entrance proposals and the removal of the Hutton Rooms, the previous keeper of the Burrell Collection Professor Richard Marks has written saying “Without seeing the alternatives, the proposals, especially the entrance arm, are of great concern, both as a former Keeper and an art historian. As for the Hutton rooms, it was always the case that their enclosed nature made them somewhat inaccessible to visitors, but it was a condition of (Sir William Burrell’s) Deed of Gift that they should be recreated. I dispute the notion that the entrance arm is off-putting when anyone approaching can see the building in toto.

    Catherine Croft of the 20th Century Society has also written to say "Very pleased to learn that C20 is not alone at being very concerned about this scheme. The Society is disappointed that the applicant has not been able to develop this scheme without impacting the Hutton Rooms to such an extent, particularly given the unique nature of the architectural response to the bequest and its status as a Category A listed building of this type.” The architects "did do very good research, they involved C20 extensively in pre-application discussions, but they persisted with the alterations to the Hutton Rooms and the entrance, in the full knowledge of our views that the alterations they were proposing were fundamentally unsympathetic to the buildings, and not something which could be addressed, or even significantly mitigated, by the level of alterations to those areas which they were prepared to consider."

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  • John McAslan should know better, and it will be very sad indeed if he's remembered for butchering the Burrell.

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  • I was in the Cambridge Department of Architecture when my friends and colleagues Barry Gasson and John Meunier won the competition for the Burrell. Over the years I have visited the building many times on my visits to Glasgow, not least in the period when I was Visiting Professor at the Mackintosh School (2004-2009). I consider it to be one of the most important post-war buildings in Britain and possibly the most complete expression of the line of architectural thinking set in train by Leslie Martin at the Cambridge school. I'm saddened that John McAslan's proposals seem to misunderstand the subtlety the original design, with its carefully controlled entrance and circulation sequence and, in particular, the masterly control of natural light in the transition between the north and south facing galleries. The intervention of the proposed over bright, top-lit 'Hub' is particularly inappropriate in this discreet building. Please think again.

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