Ten New Galleries at the National Museum of Scotland

Stephen Allen

Head of Learning & Programmes, National Museums Scotland

National Museums Scotland

Chambers Street Edinburgh EH1 1JF


Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Museums + Heritage Permanent Exhibition 2017


Transforming the National Museum of Scotland



As one of the world's great museums, the National Museum of Scotland uniquely brings together science and art, the natural world and the diversity of human cultures. With 2.2 million visitors per year it is Scotland's most visited museum, gallery or visitor attraction.  Since 2004, the National Museum of Scotland has been undergoing transformation via an £80 million (91.5m Euro) Masterplan. The final phase of the project - two galleries displaying our Ancient Egypt and East Asian collections - is due for completion in Spring 2019. The major redevelopment of the magnificent Grade A listed Victorian building has restored the Museum's original layout and sightlines, rethought the display and interpretation of its world-class collections and improved visitor facilities. The Masterplan has transformed the visitor experience at the Museum, broadening audiences and encouraging visitors to explore the collections.


In 2016 the National Museum of Scotland celebrated its 150th anniversary year with the opening of ten new galleries following a £14.1 million (16.1m Euro) redevelopment. These galleries, which are dedicated to decorative art, design, fashion science and technology, aim to engage visitors with the excitement of scientific discovery and invention, and the creativity of applied arts, fashion and design. The galleries were created in collaboration with award-winning practice Hoskins Architects and exhibition specialists Metaphor. Over 3,000 objects are now on display across the new galleries, three-quarters of which have not been shown for at least a generation.

Visitors discover more about the collections through in-depth information, a network of digital labels, audio visual programmes, a wide range of interactive exhibits and original working machines; there are over 150 interactive exhibits. The displays aim to offer an enjoyable and inspiring experience, enabling visitors to discover our past, present and potential futures in science, technology, fashion and design. Visitors expect to read, play, listen, chat, watch, participate, perform, converse, create, and touch during their experience with us. We set out to create physical, emotional, and social experiences, as well as the traditional intellectual ones, and to offer a balance of voices from a range of perspectives. On the principle that creating "content for everyone" is often not very effective for "anyone", the galleries were designed with different primary and secondary audiences in mind, offering a hierarchy of interpretation which, while guiding, also encourages our visitors to explore the museum to find what best suits them.

The six science and technology galleries are the UK's most comprehensive outside London, and have established the National Museum of Scotland as a key centre for science engagement. The galleries feature objects covering over 250 years of enquiry and innovation, with worldwide resonance in areas as diverse as engineering, medicine, transport, communication, physics and chemistry. Highlights include one of the two oldest railway locomotives in the world; a 2-tonne Copper Cavity from CERN's Large Electron Positron Collider; three Formula 1 racing cars; an Apple-1, one of the world's first personal home computers; the world's first pneumatic tyre, developed in Scotland by John Boyd Dunlop; Britainrs"s oldest motorcycle; one of John Logie Bairdrs"s earliest televisions. A dramatic central atrium showcases a spectacular aerial squadron of iconic aircraft.

A new focus within these galleries is on biomedical science, reflecting Scotland and Edinburgh's key role in its past and future. The topics covered include the science of genetics with Dolly the sheep, the development of new pharmaceuticals and advances in prosthetics and body implants. Key objects include medals awarded to: Sir Alexander Fleming for the discovery of penicillin; Sir David Jack for developing asthma inhalers and Sir James Black for his invention of the first successful beta-blocker and modern anti-ulcer drug; and ground-breaking contemporary initiatives like the world's first bionic arm and a mouse kidney grown from stem cells.
The four Art, Design and Fashion galleries showcase excellence, creativity and innovation, as well as highlighting some of the treasures of the national collections. From precious medieval gothic treasures to the work of today's leading names in contemporary craft, design and fashion they provide a broad and fascinating picture of British, European and international artistic achievement and enterprise.
Three of the galleries span sculpture, metalwork, ceramics, glass, furniture and woodwork. Highlights include pieces by Picasso; an ornate panelled wall from Hamilton Palace, once one of the greatest treasure houses in Europe; the 17th century Kinghorne table carpet from Glamis Castle; rolls of hand-printed 19th century panoramic French wallpaper previously never displayed; and the travelling-set of Princess Pauline Borghese, given to her by her brother the Emperor Napoleon. 

A landmark new Fashion and Style gallery brings together a display of textile, costume and fashion to the Museum for the first time in a generation. Its dramatic presentation showcases clothing and accessories from the 17th century to the present day, with a central "catwalk" celebrating significant designers like Vivienne Westwood, Paco Rabanne and Comme des Garcons. Highlights also include items from the celebrated Jean Muir collection - one of the largest fashion designer archives held by any museum in the world - as well as items from the wardrobe of Frances Farquharson, the 1930s Fashion Editor of Vogue, known for her flamboyant style.


The new galleries have been supported by an extensive new programme of activities, events and learning resources, providing deeper engagement with the collections for our visitors. Our programmes are aimed at a range of audiences; schools, families, students, young adults and adult learners. We also engage with audiences and groups who do not visit us, through outreach and community engagement. Over 500,000 people have taken part in these programmes since the galleries opened. We have also developed on-line and digital content. Two new online immersive experiences were created: Mode, a guide to the museum's wardrobe, enabling 360ordm; spins of outfits; and Gen, a game in which players diagnose and treat an online creature's illnesses using biomedical objects featured in the galleries. The Explore section of the website was developed into an online hub for stories, games films and resources where people can find out more about the collections, whether or not they are able to visit the museum.
This pound;14.1 million project was delivered on time and on budget. Funding was secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government, several other major trusts and foundations, as well as nearly 800 individual donors.

The new galleries have won a number of awards including:
> Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits, from the Society for the History of Technology (USA )
> Museum and Heritage Awards 2017, Best Permanent Exhibit
> National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards - New National Treasure Award (2018)
> Scottish Thistle Tourism Awards - Best Visitor Attraction (2017) 




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