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Reiach and Hall’s Argyll museum overhaul wins £3.2m lottery grant

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The Heritage Lottery Fund has given £3.2 million to Reiach and Hall’s proposed redevelopment of the Kilmartin Museum in Argyll, western Scotland 

The 1,245m² project will link up the two existing 18th-century buildings on the site and transform the museum into a ‘landmark venue that interprets and celebrates the global significance of Kilmartin Glen’ – one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Britain.

According to the 21-year-old museum, the ‘major extension’ scheme will create ’‘a significant cultural and natural tourism centre’ and provide much larger exhibition for the collection of artefacts. When it was first launched in 2013, the project was budgeted at £3 million.

A spokesperson said: ‘The new museum will ensure that Kilmartin Glen gains the recognition it deserves, and its larger scale and better flow will mean that more than twice as many people can experience its treasures, enjoy its stories and appreciate the important role it played in shaping the Scottish nation.’

The AJ100 practice, which landed the job following a competition in 2013, described the proposed extension as a ‘simple, memorable and durable vessel’. 

Construction is expected to begin in January 2019 and complete by the summer of 2020.

The architect’s view

Kilmartin Glen is remarkable for its rare alignment of culture, landscape and light. There is a unique quality to its orientation and layered complexity of landforms that collude to create a place apart, a sacred place. These qualities were recognised by ancient cultures whose enigmatic structures and rock drawings heighten the spiritual sense of this place. These ancient cultures left indelible marks.

In contrast to the monumental landscape of Kilmartin Glen with its linear cemetery and chambered cairns, the objects within the collection are modest in size. The objects taken from this landscape are domestically scaled. They are handmade and have a vulnerability that, given their age, makes them all the more remarkable – to have survived is astounding. A simple fired clay pot, a decorated vessel, is, through its age and ritualistic use, raised to an artefact of great cultural significance and power.

The new museum is imagined as a vessel

The new museum is imagined as a vessel, a building that sensitively mediates between objects, people and the broader landscape. The building fulfils two basic needs. One is to simply support people, while the other is to contain and display precious and fragile artefacts, safely, securely and beautifully. Each requires a different set of architectural conditions.

The treasures of Kilmartin have been unearthed and exposed to the light. While the physical remains may have been revealed the story behind them remains shrouded in shadow. There are wonderful stories to tell. The architectural approach is to attempt to create a building that returns both the artefacts to the shadows, to the ground, thereby regaining dignity and gravity while adding drama and depth both literally and metaphorically to the narrative. The intention is to create an earthbound architecture that is atmospheric and memorable.

A raised gravel terrace looks out over Kilmartin Glen. Three structures sit on this belvedere: the steading, the existing museum and the Kirk. The proposals are centred on the existing museum and its direct relationship to the landscape in general and the Glebe Cairn in particular. The proposals consolidate the edge of the raised terrace through the creation of a linear route that binds the different parts of the building together, echoing the linear cemetery.

The new building serves to link the two existing buildings into one connected complex. The steading is refurbished and reconfigured to contain the spaces that support visitors, café, kitchen, stores, toilets and general information. The existing museum contains administrative and meeting spaces on the upper levels with temporary galleries on the ground level and laboratory/ education/archive spaces on the lower ground. The new building forms a new generous entrance with views out to the Glebe Cairn along with a reception area and shop.

The new construction extends out to the east from the entry spaces, literally wrapping the existing museum in a series of generous spaces. The new building invites the visitor to explore, stepping up gradually around the existing stone museum to a gallery space to the south with views out to the linear cemetery and also back to the Glebe Cairn. From this final space, the visitor makes their way back through the temporary spaces to the entrance and shop.

The new building, through its robust construction and strong materiality, creates a simple, memorable and durable vessel in which the interpretation designers and curators can orchestrate their compelling stories.

The inner surfaces are marked, influenced by the decoration of the ancient pot

At a detail level, the façades and inner surfaces of the new museum’s architecture are marked. Influenced by the decoration of the ancient pot, drawn into wet clay before firing, the cup and ring marks drawn into the rock, the façades and inner surfaces have been designed with the thought of textures and marks that are generated through an appreciation and an expression of their making.

4118 km visualisation 2

4118 km visualisation 2

Project data

Location Kilmartin, Argyle
Type of project Museum redevelopment
Client Kilmartin Museum Trust
Architect Reiach and Hall Architects
Landscape architect Horner + Maclennan
Planning consultant none
Structural engineer David Narro Associates
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Quantity surveyor Turner & Townsend
Planning supervisor Alliance CDM
Main contractor To be confirmed
Funding HLF, local authority and others
Tender date n/a
Start on site date January 2019
Completion Summer 2020
Contract duration n/a
Gross internal floor area 1,245m²
Form of contract and/or procurement n/a
Total cost undisclosed

Reaich hall plan

Reaich hall plan

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