The Burrell Collection (1)

I’m so glad that Edwin Heathcote has written such a carefully considered and balanced review of the new Burrell Collection (see attached, but only available to subscribers).

For those who have not been following this issue, one of the original architects of the Burrell Collection, John Meunier, has been fighting an unexpectedly successful campaign against its recent radical renovation by John McAslan, claiming that the renovation has changed the way that visitors experience the building, which is indeed true. Originally, the entrance was through an ecclesiastical portico and down a long entrance enfilade which apparently got progressively silted up with commercial clutter. The combination meant that fewer and fewer people visited the wonderful collection, down from 1 million when the building opened to 150,000 when it closed. So, McAslan has opened up a much bigger and more public entrance to encourage people in from the surrounding Pollok Park. This may be a change in architectural priorities, but it reflects a change in the museum’s priorities. In the middle of the building was a lecture theatre which was apparently little used. McAslan has transformed it into a place of public congregation, a bit like the central space of the Design Museum. Yes, you can say it is now a bit of a cliché, but again it is a change from something which didn’t work to something which can and should be a public benefit.

My own feeling on visiting the new Burrell was that McAslan has very much respected the character of the original – the quality of spaces, the use of materials, and has restored a building which had become dilapidated into something which is really remarkable, as it was when it first opened.

You can read my assessment in the April issue of The Critic which will probably be out in hard copy next week, although not online till mid-April. As you can tell, I am a bit protective of the renovation because Glasgow Life have spent £68 million on restoring the building and I feel they should be congratulated, without too much carping.


2 thoughts on “The Burrell Collection (1)

  1. bendorgrosvenor says:

    Looking forward to visiting it. The thing that strikes me most, however, is how quickly these spaces can become unmoored from the original architects vision. It often doesn’t take much misguided intervention – a new ticket desk here, some terrible lighting there, and of course lots of signage and posters – to make an entrance which once worked well seem as if it needs radical reworking. The Sainsbury Wing is of course another example. I’m not sure why this happens – is it a case of the original architect not properly providing for practical entrance spaces, or museum management not properly appreciating the architecture? But perhaps if we addressed this, we’d be able to fix the wheel more cheaply than reinventing it.

    • Dear Bendor,

      What you say is, of course, true, which is why I am interested in it as an issue.

      In general, at the time of a comprehensive renovation, there is an integrated view of how a museum/gallery should look. But, over time, as you say, it gets forgotten. New people arrive with different views and the place gets cluttered up.

      My own feeling about the Sainsbury Wing is that the entrance space was compromised right from the beginning by having to be shared with a commercial bookshop which was designed in a completely different style.

      Unfortunately, it often needs another architect to come in to restore a form of integrity to the original, but this does also involve modifications of the original.

      So, the question is, how far should these modifications be allowed to go ?


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