Ambitious £42m plans to transform Paisley Museum into an international-class destination have pulled off a major coup, with the appointment of AL_A – the award-winning architects behind some of the world’s most striking buildings.
The firm’s founder Amanda Levete – a former winner of UK architecture’s top honour, the RIBA Stirling Prize – says the Paisley Museum project is ‘one of the most radical briefs she has read’.
It will be the first Scottish commission for the London-based practice, who have designed landmark projects including the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition Road Quarter – for which they this week won the prestigious RIBA London Building of the Year 2018.
They were also this month shortlisted for the competition to redesign the visitor experience at Paris’s iconic Eiffel Tower.
The Paisley Museum transformation is the flagship project in Renfrewshire Council’s planned £100m investment in cultural venues and infrastructure – key to Paisley’s UK City of Culture 2021 bid legacy, and the wider plans to use the town's unique assets to transform its future.
The museum will close this autumn and re-open in 2022 as a revitalised home for Paisley’s internationally-significant textile heritage and outstanding natural history, art and science collections, expected to nearly quadruple current visitor numbers to 125,000 a year.
The project will include a contemporary addition to the existing Victorian-era building, creating a new entrance and museum spaces - including a cafe and shop - landscaping and significantly-improved access.
There will be major revamps to all four museum buildings including the Coats Observatory, while a complete internal redesign will reimagine the visitor experience and double the number of objects on public display.
Current AL_A projects include the revitalisation of the historic Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris; a new centre for the cancer care charity Maggie’s in Southampton; and two new buildings for Wadham College at the University of Oxford. Completed projects include Central Embassy, a 1.5m sq ft luxury shopping mall and hotel in Bangkok, and Sky TV’s new London media campus.
Levete was recently named the winner of the 2018 Jane Drew Prize, an annual lifetime achievement award for an architect who has furthered the progress of women in the industry.
She said: ““This is one of the most radical briefs I have read – it triggered in us a desire to tell the untold history of Paisley and search for a narrative thread that will drive the design. The project is bigger than the building itself and I am excited to re-imagine the relationship between the street and museum.
“This is not only about finding the way to best show the museum’s collection, it’s also about showing the world how an ambitious cultural project can have a profound impact on a community and its identity.”
Cllr Lisa-Marie Hughes, chair of Renfrewshire Leisure – which operates the museum – added: “For Paisley to have attracted a design team of such global reputation to come to Scotland for the first time shows we are being noticed around the UK and abroad.
“Being the first ever town on a UK City of Culture shortlist took our profile to new levels – but this appointment also says a lot about the scale and ambition of the museum project, and the worldwide importance of Paisley’s heritage and collections.
“The museum was gifted to the people of Paisley more than a century ago by Peter Coats, at the time his family were building a global thread empire headquartered right here.
“Now, AL_A will honour that legacy by designing a striking 21st-century facility to open up our unique heritage to future generations and be a valuable educational resource for our young people.
“At the same time, the new museum will be the centrepiece of the work to transform the area’s fortunes by using our unique selling points to make us a destination and drive huge volumes of new footfall into the town centre.”
AL_A were among more than 120 firms to tender for the Paisley Museum project and will lead an Anglo-Scottish multi-disciplinary design team including conservation consultants Giles Quarme and Associates, landscape architects GROSS.MAX, and engineers Arup.
They will also provide a wide range of benefits to the Renfrewshire community, including further education and school visits, work experience placements and careers events.
The £100m investment in Paisley town centre over the next four years also includes projects to transform Paisley Town Hall and Arts Centre into 21st-century venues, a new learning and cultural hub on the High Street, major investment in outdoor spaces and the town's transport links, and new sporting facilities and events space at St James Playing Fields.
The plans build on the investment already made in the publicly-accessible museum store Paisley: The Secret Collection, opened last year on the town’s High Street, and the launch of the new destination brand and website at www.paisley.is
The museum project is also being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.