The museum, home to artworks donated by Sir William Burrell to the City of Glasgow, reopens after enhancing the original vision of the Scottish philanthropist
When, in 1944, Scottish shipping merchant and philanthropist Sir William Burrell donated his art collection to the City of Glasgow, he wanted the works to be displayed in a place where they could be experienced in close proximity to nature. His wish led to the creation of one of the richest and most eclectic museums in Scotland, with over nine thousand pieces, including objects from Ancient Egypt and Rome, French impressionist paintings, and magnificent vases and sculptures. Since 1983, the Burrell collection has occupied its current home in Pollok Country Park. After closing its doors for five years for a major refurbishment and redisplay, it has recently reopened to the public. The project was the work of John McAslan + Partners, which oversaw the architectural design and landscaping following its appointment by Glasgow Life, the local authority that manages cultural and sporting activities.
The original building, made of red Dumfriesshire sandstone, concrete, stainless steel, wood, and glass, was designed by Cambridge architect-academics Barry Gasson, Brit Andresen, and John Meunier. The renovation aimed to enhance Burrell’s original vision by expanding the museum’s connection with its parkland setting by opening up parts of the building and making it accessible to all. This involved focusing on transparency, on the interior spaces just as much as their connection with the exterior, and on creating an immersive experience in both the collection and nature.
The principle of openness underpins many of the design choices. The galleries, for example, have been reorganized (while preserving the identity of the original architecture) to create 35 percent more space. The same principle has seen the creation of large, airy interior spaces, a number of double-height areas, and walkways on the upper levels with views of the floors below, thereby opening up a range of new perspectives on the installations and exhibits at different levels. The project has also seen a different and more complete use of both physical and visual space, creating greater possibilities of movement both horizontally and vertically. Two important examples of this are the new museum entrance and the “orientation volume.” The original entrance area, located at the end of the wing with a pitched roof and ending with a monumental doorway resembling a fragment from a monastery, has been moved and enlarged, with an unobstructed paved area open to the surrounding park created to encourage the use of the green space and outdoor parking. The central orientation volume, which takes advantage of the natural slope of the site, connects all the galleries on the upper mezzanine level and the floor below via stairs that blend with the adjacent stepped seating.
With a lack of obstructions, the eye is free to move from inside to out, even on the bottom level of the building, where there are laboratories, a few galleries, and a café. Then, sitting at a table in the café, you feel your own proximity to nature thanks to the glazed walls and roof, and the timber supporting structure.
Besides strengthening the relationship with its setting through transparencies and subtractions, a key aim of the project was to improve the environmental performance of the building. In addition to the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof, a fabric first approach was taken to enhance the environmental performance of the existing building, while also taking into account the temperature and humidity levels needed to protect the collection.
This project is emblematic of the practice’s commitment to reuse – to updating a building’s existing built fabric to meet contemporary needs. In the case of The Burrell Collection, the reuse of the existing aluminum glazing frames avoided adding over nine tons of new aluminum to the building, thereby eliminating 110 tons of carbon emissions from the production of new aluminum. Other savings were made in the use of custom-made gaskets and thermal breaks for the existing glazing frames, and replacing the non-visible parts of roofs with modern alternatives.
“No glass material went to landfill,” says Graeme DeBrincat, senior façade engineer with Arup (façade consultant on the project), “16 tonnes [17 tons] of glass was recycled back to flat glass manufacture and the rest went into other building products. It has been rewarding to see what we could achieve through a circular design approach.”
Location: Glasgow, Scozia
Architects: John McAslan + Partners
Client: Glasgow Life
Completion: March 2022
Area: 13.253 m2
Landscape: John McAslan + Partners
Structures: David Narro Associates
Project Manager: Gardiner & Theobald
Main Contractor: Kier
Planning Consultant: John McAslan + Partners
Acoustics: Sandy Brown Acoustics
Suppliers (Lighting Stretch Ceiling System): Barrisol
Photography by Hufton+Crow, courtesy of John McAslan + Partners