27 November 2023

John McAslan + Partners has been given planning permission for a cultural centre in Edinburgh that will house 97 per cent of all Scottish public art

Most of Scotland’s publicly held art is kept in storage around the country but the Art Works will provide a single home for the National Galleries of Scotland’s entire collection not currently on show. The 11,000m² building will be in Granton, a deprived former industrial area in the north of Edinburgh currently undergoing regeneration. It will be open to the public, featuring glass walls to let visitors see how the art is stored and watch specialist conservators working. McAslans described the 4.3ha site as ‘a new type of urban, cultural place that provides formal and informal opportunities for people and art to mingle’. The practice will use repeating forms to break down the scale of the building and bring light in, while industrial façades will ‘offer layers of transparency to reveal what happens within’, it says.

McAslans is best-known projects include the 2006 restoration of Camden Roundhouse, the 2012 renovation of King's Cross Station, and museum design including the Msheireb Museums in Qatar, the new British Museum Archaeological Research Collection in Reading, and work on London's Natural History Museum. 

The international architecture firm has offices in London, Sydney, New York, Belfast, and Edinburgh.

Its arts centre for Edinburgh will be built to Passivhaus standards and will provide stable light levels, temperature and humidity for the artworks. The artworks housed in the centre will be easily accessible so they can be transported around the country. The Art Works will also include ‘community support’ and education areas, and a community studio. As part of the project, two ‘green routes’ will be built from north to south and east to west. McAslans says construction of the new centre will form part of the regeneration process in Granton.

The government allocated £16 million of levelling-up funding to projects in the area in January, including 3,500 homes, a school, a medical facility, a low-carbon heat network, and the transformation of a derelict gasholder into public green space.

McAslans associate Peter Lee said: ‘Ninety-seven per cent of Scotland’s public art collection is currently in storage, hidden in buildings scattered around the country that make access and logistics difficult. The Art Works will bring all the art that’s not on show in galleries into one place, where it can be looked after, conserved, studied and enjoyed by more people.’ Lee said the centre would house 120,000 pieces of art under different conditions, including drawings, watercolours, oil paintings, textiles and sculpture. He expressed ambitions for the Art Works to ‘become a destination that will kickstart other cultural initiatives in the area’ and ‘contribute to economic sustainability by providing jobs and opportunities for other businesses, and support community pride and wellbeing’.

Work is due to start on site in 2024.

Scottish public art to be housed in McAslan-designed centre (architectsjournal.co.uk)