Riverside Museum

Lawrence Fitzgerald

Riverside Museum

100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, G3 8RS, Scotland


Glasgow, Scotland
Micheletti Award 2012 


Riverside Museum: Scotland's Museum of Transport and Travel


The Riverside Museum is a purpose-built built replacement for the Museum of Transport, Glasgow, which attracted c 500,000 visitors each year.  The museum is part of Glasgow Life, a charitable organisation, that runs nine other museums in the city as well libraries, sport centres, arts venues and theatres on behalf of Glasgow City Council.  Glasgow Life is funded in the main by Glasgow City Council. 

The Riverside Museum building has been designed by the internationally acclaimed architect, Zaha Hadid, and provides a flexible column-free, conditioned space for the display of transport collections.  It is situated on a new site at the confluence of the River Clyde and River Kelvin in an area steeped in shipbuilding and maritime history.  The landscape around the museum is an important part of the museum experience.  The Glenlee Tall Ship, a Clyde-built cargo ship operated by the Clyde Maritime Trust as a separate, related attraction, is berthed alongside the museum.  The large granite events space in front of the museum and surrounding quayside allows the museum to connect with its surroundings through transport related events and landscape interpretation.  The landscape has been designed to support more informal transport related activities such as skateboarding and BMX bicycles and is linked into the local cycle, road, rail, underground and ferry network.   

In the 19th and first half of the 20th Century, Glasgow and the River Clyde area was one of the most important producers to the world of heavy engineering, such as ships and locomotives. Glasgow also made a significant contribution to the development and production of bicycles, prams and cars.  The Glasgow underground is the third oldest in the world.  The collections at the Riverside Museum reflect these forms of transport and are recognized to be of national and international significance. 

At the Riverside Museum we have tried to marry the best of the former Museum of Transport with new ways of displaying and interpreting the collections based on: a thorough understanding of how groups of visitors or individuals use museums in general and this type of museum in particular; and current academic understanding of how transport and technology are shaped.  We carried out extensive research to understand what visitors (and non-visitors) liked or did not like about the old museum and what they would like to see at the Riverside Museum.  The four most important things wanted by visitors were displays like the reconstructed 1930s Glasgow street, access onto locomotives, buses, subway carriages and trams, more interactive and hands on interpretation and more information, films and images about the collections on display.  At the Riverside Museum we have provided one literal street and two abstracted streets and, for the first time, there is access into the street ''shops'.  We have also provided better access onto the large vehicles. In addition there is a wide range of interpretation that is full of images, memories and films about the collections on display. We increased the number of objects on display from 1400 at the old museum to over 3000, including new acquisitions such as a huge Glasgow designed and built locomotive exported to South Africa. 

In the old Museum of Transport, the collections were largely arranged by typology - cars, motorbikes, ship models etc.  While useful for comparing one type of object with another it can limit the display stories and making connections between transport types.  In the new museum we use a mix of displaying objects by type and also as part of a theme. There are 9 main themes within the new museum: Streets (1895 - 1980) - Individuals, organisations and transport innovations have shaped Glasgow's streets and how they were used; The River Clyde - Over the centuries, changes to the River Clyde have reflected developments in Glasgow as it grew to become a major port and industrial city; TranSport Leisure - People use transport for leisure, sport or to escape the City; Made in Scotland - People in Scotland applied their skills and ingenuity to transport used throughout Britain and the world; Looks Fashion - People''s tastes, styles and desires have affected the way transport is designed; Crossing the World - Transport linked Glasgow with ports and cities all over the world; Cutting Edge: Past, Present Future - People''s desire to travel further, faster, higher or safer has pushed horizons; Disasters Crashes - Transport failure whether by accident or intent, has affected people''s lives and the way transport is designed, built and used; Getting There - The ups, downs and obstacles people experience travelling around Glasgow and Scotland.  Except for the Street theme, the displays in one theme do not appear in the same area of the museum.  This is because large objects such as locomotives and trams may have more than one ls"story display' and feature in more than one theme, and because museum objects can be interpreted in different ways.  The collections are largely interpreted within self-contained ls"story displays' made up of one object or a small group of objects. These story displays are arranged for practical and aesthetic reasons and be easily changed in response to visitor interest or new research and acquisitions without breaking up a larger narrative.  To increase flexibility the story displays are built around a bespoke flexible display system (70% reusable) with a design language developed in coordination with our main exhibition designers Event Communications Ltd and architects, Zaha Hadid Associates.  There are over 150 self-contained story displays.

Stereotypically museums of technology and transport are celebratory and offer tunnel histories.  They often only show how things work, were made or operated. Rarely do they consider the downside or failures of technology or address other issues of academic and general public interest such as consumption and disability.  For example, who owned a car and why did they buy it?  Academic understanding of the social shaping and context of technology underpins the Riverside displays.  Where possible, stories are told through the lives of passengers and vehicle owners as well the operators, designers and makers. There are 93 interviews, 189 video and film clips, 420 quotes, 4000 images and 140,000 words.  All the displays have target audiences to ensure that the interpretation meets the needs of the visitors and to encourage visiting by sometimes neglected audiences: sensory impaired people, teenagers, under 5s, schools and families with children.  A range of interpretation is used including hands-on and multi-media interactive exhibits, live interpretation and audio-visual displays. Notable are the innovative ls"e-story books' aimed at the under 5s and over 30 large ipad-like touch screens (e-intros) that provide an introduction and in-depth multi-media resource for many of the most significant story displays and collections.  

We have made imaginative use of the walls and spaces overhead in order to allow us to display more of our collection of cars, bicycles, motorbikes and ship models.  The cars on the dramatic ''car wall' and the bicycles on the suspended ls"velodrome' are interpreted from the floor by the e-intros.  Each of the cars has been photographed inside and out to produce 360 degrees QTVRs. These are shown alongside a substantive amount of historic photographs and information. The e-intros allow visitors to vote for objects in the reserve collections to be displayed, or cars high up on the car wall to be brought to lower levels or feature in a distinct story display.  One of the most innovative and spectacular displays is the ships conveyor.  Almost 40 large ship models from one of the best ship model collections in the world move on a conveyor belt as if sailing towards the River Clyde. They pass in front of digital screens, which provide interpretation relating to the particular model as it passes by.

Most importantly, visitors and the general public contributed their memories, objects and images to the displays.  Six advisory panels representing families with children, sensory impaired visitors, young adults, schoolchildren, education specialists and academic historians and museologists helped shape the building and displays from conception to realisation.  Our dialogue with our visitors and advisory panels is on-going and visitors can inform display changes through several visitor feedback touchscreens placed throughout the main exhibition space.

In the first 18 months after opening on the 21 June 2011, the Riverside Museum attracted over 2 million visitors.  In April 2012, the Riverside Museum won the prestigious European Museum Academy Micheletti award for best science, technical and industrial museum in Europe and in 2013 European Museum of the Year Award presented by European Museum Forum.  


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