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Burrell architect urges rethink on £66m refurbishment

June 1 2017

Burrell architect urges rethink on £66m refurbishment
John Meunier, one of the architects behind Glasgow’s A-listed Burrell Museum now emeritus professor of architecture at Arizona State University, has issued an 11th hour plea to John McAslan & Partners to re-think their plans despite approval already having been granted by Glasgow City Council.

The £66m project has been necessitated to carry out urgent repairs to the ailing 1983 structure which has been hit by extensive water ingress through the roof, presenting an opportunity to greatly increase the display space on offer as part of these works, allowing 90 per cent of the 9,000 objects to go on display – four times the number which can be put on show currently.

To achieve this however McAslan proposes significant alterations to the building fabric, principally the main entrance and Hutton Rooms, sparking fears that the buildings status as a 2oth century landmark could be imperiled.

In a letter to the architects Meurnier wrote: “The issue for me is the long term and whether it retains its status as one of the best 20th century works of architecture in Scotland, superbly matching the architecture to the works of art, while continuing to honour the intentions of its progenitor (William Burrell).

"For it to do that a lot more has to be retained, including the extended entry sequence of graduated spaces, and the programmatic requirement of the will that the restored Hutton Rooms be retained.

“There is obviously a lot more to discuss, including the careful insertion of elevators as all three levels come into play, but my main message is to mess around with the basic, experience, logic and composition of the original building as little as possible, and to exercise architectural creativity to meet your new goals in a way that sustains the material and formal language of the original.”

McAslan & Partners have rebuffed the approach however, stating that the changes are ‘required’ to arrest a decline in visitor numbers. Paddy Pugh, director of conservation and planning at architects McAslan, responded: “Beyond repairing/replacing the roofs, facades and building services, the principle architectural changes are designed to improve access into and around the building.”


Catherine Croft
#1 Posted by Catherine Croft on 1 Jun 2017 at 13:56 PM
C20 Society has objected to these proposals and would very much welcome a rethink to retain the Hutton Rooms. It is great to see investment in the future of the museum, but it would be a tragedy if a well meaning scheme ended up causing substantial damage to what makes the building so special.
Alan Dunlop
#2 Posted by Alan Dunlop on 1 Jun 2017 at 14:44 PM
The removal of the Hutton Rooms is indeed deeply concerning, particularly as their inclusion was, I understand a fundamental part of the Burrell bequest to the city. Their position on plan is also an important part of the design and transition through the gallery. Hutton Rooms apart, this is the architects rational for the new entrance and another "Hub"

"The monolithic gable end entrance wing feels very church like and austere and can often be mistaken for a private building. This unwelcoming approach is reinforced by the lack of views into the gallery from outside. This intimidating entrance combined with compromised accessibility into and around the gallery makes for a confusing visitor experience."

Which seems ridiculous.The sequence, from the Locharbriggs red sandstone gable, through the 14th century Hornby Castle entrance arch, part of the Burrell Collection, along the entrance hall axis to the naturally lit courtyard, with the Warwick Vase in the centre and into the main gallery, through another Hornby Castle archway bought from William Randolph Hearst into the main gallery, which is right up to the tree line, is beautifully considered.

The Burrell is a precious thing and the collection, of true and unequivocal international standing, comparable to any museum building and collection worldwide and better than the majority.

These alterations are worrying and remind me of Kahn's words on most museum designs. "‘The first thing you want to do is have a cup of coffee. You feel so tired immediately." Time for a serious debate on this.
#3 Posted by monkey9000 on 1 Jun 2017 at 15:16 PM
It seems the Kings Cross concept is being lazily applied to the Burrell. Perhaps such a direct approach into the building would have been more interesting an experience if positioned at the existing cafe rather directly alongside the elevation of the existing entrance - simultaneously diluting the experience of both. Is it really going to be obvious to visitors which entrance to use?

In the existing building moving through the compressed series of spaces with cloakroom, WC's, reception etc has in my mind always been one of the greatest successes of the Burrell as you gradually "disrobe" yourself of your external worries and acclimatise into the Gallery - you are given time. To be chucked straight into the middle of the plan will cheapen the gallery experience to the level of walking straight into a sofa warehouse at a retail park with it's collection of oddities laid out before you.
The Flâneur
#4 Posted by The Flâneur on 2 Jun 2017 at 17:35 PM
I note this extract from your post Alan:

"The monolithic gable end entrance wing feels very church like and austere and can often be mistaken for a private building. This unwelcoming approach is reinforced by the lack of views into the gallery from outside. This intimidating entrance combined with compromised accessibility into and around the gallery makes for a confusing visitor experience."

Good grief, who wrote this nonsense and where did you find it?!

I do hope it wasn't Glasgow Life or John McAslan & Partners as it is a rather distorted take on one of the great buildings of the 20th Century in Glasgow and Scotland and, considering what is proposed, most self-serving and lacking in objectivity.

I’m also concerned about the haste with which the Planning and Listed Building Consent Applications were approved - quite the fastest approvals I have ever seen in Glasgow. The applications were validated on 3 March and the decision made via delegated powers on 13 April i.e. just under six weeks later.

I note there were only two objections (no longer available on the public portal) and scant evidence of pre-application consultation with the public (of which I cannot find a report) presumably because Glasgow Life include meetings they held back in 2015 and 2016 as pre-app consultation when they had still to fully crystallise their proposals or even appoint a design team and when so many items were left up in the air (concerns about a second entrance and the loss of the main entrance were expressed at that stage but have been ignored).

In fact Glasgow Life officers were still carrying out consultations with surrounding community councils after the representations period closed so even though concerns were expressed during at least one of those meetings it was too late to make a representation which is hardly fair.

So as a result of the lack of objections this is what the handling report notes about the alterations:

“The proposal has been subject of extensive pre-application discussions between GCC City Design and Historic Environment Scotland, and the proposal reflects the design solution which addresses the failings of the building and the aspiration to improve access to an increased amount of the collection. It is considered that the proposal respects the character of the category A Listed Building and would not harm its special architectural interest. The proposal is deemed to accord with CDP 9 and SG 9.”

And, bizarrely, HES in their formal response to the applications appears more concerned about the height of the adjacent proposed play apparatus than the formation of a second entrance that entirely undermines the existing one!
Alan Dunlop
#5 Posted by Alan Dunlop on 2 Jun 2017 at 19:13 PM
It's a direct quote from the architect's application documentation. The HES response to issues surrounding the Listed Building consent were not included within the documentation on the GCC planning portal however sent me a copy of their response, when asked. It says this about consultations: "The applicant’s architects have gone to considerable effort to research the building, and to understand how its design evolved from the initial completion entry. It is clear that the architects and other consultants involved have the highest regard for the building and that their proposals respond sensitively to its original character." However, Catherine Croft of the 20th Century Society who was consulted during pre application has responded to me saying this:
"I would agree with all of the quote apart from the crucial last bit--- “and that their proposals respond sensitively to its original character." I.e. they did do very good research, they involved C20 extensively in pre application discussions, but they persisted with the alterations to the Hutton Rooms and the entrance , in the full knowledge of our views that the alterations they were proposing were fundamentally unsympathetic to the buildings, and not something which could be addressed, or even significantly mitigated, by the level of alterations to those areas which they were prepared to consider."

#6 Posted by RJB on 2 Jun 2017 at 20:52 PM
I sometimes wonder what the point of listing and Historic Scotland is ?
Trig R Warning
#7 Posted by Trig R Warning on 2 Jun 2017 at 22:13 PM
what John Meunier has cleverly overlooked in his plea is that Scotland's best 20th century works of architecture was designed with a stainless steel standing seam flat roof which would have always have failed and an entrance that although takes the architecturally informed on an emotional narrative experience, to most visitors it is actually quite an intimidating and lengthy journey that takes them past toilets, unmanned cloakrooms, retail and reception before experiencing anything of the collection. Other factors that Mr Meunier has overlooked is that this impeccably and regiorously detailed building has created inflexibility, overheating and high running costs. Surely a building hailed as one of Scotland finest modern buildings of just 34 years old should excel in all areas of building excellence, not just those singled out by the author and his followers?
#8 Posted by bwa on 3 Jun 2017 at 16:44 PM
From all of the above postings I am afraid that it is demonstrably clear that not one of the contributors has actually analysed the subtle and some would say controversial symbolic diagram that drives the essence of the entrance journey. Seek and you shall find.......but please probe somewhat deeper before you take an authoritative stance. The challenge now reverts to you...

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