IT was closed for almost six years and has cost £69million to refurbish and next month the public will have their first glimpse of the recreated Burrell Collection as it welcomes a new generation to the world-renowned collection.
And for the architect behind the refurbishment he believes the redesign has opened up the heart of the building and crucially allows more artwork to be displayed at any given time.
John McAslan, of Architects John McAslan + Partners, who were appointed in 2016 to lead the revamp, says their role was to preserve and repair the original building but by increasing the space to display some of the 9000 items it gives people a reason to come back.
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The A-listed home of The Burrell Collection in Pollok Country Park is described as a modern, greener museum that will show more of the collection to visitors and give access to over a third more of the building.
Sir William Burrell devoted more than 75 years of his life to amassing, along with his wife, Constance, Lady Burrell, one of the world’s greatest personal art collections, renowned for its quality of Chinese art, exquisite stained glass, intricate tapestries as well as its breadth of fine art.
Run by Glasgow Life, which operates culture and leisure in the city, next month it will reopen to the public.
Among the changes are a new central stairway which will allow visitors access to the lower floor of The Burrell Collection for the first time, where they can watch items not on display being cared for. A new temporary exhibition space has also been created. There are also new galleries created on upper floors which will take visitors to spaces in the building they have never seen before. And a new entrance has been created.
When the Burrell Collection opened its doors in the grounds of Pollok Country Park in Glasgow, for the first time in 1983, it attracted one million visitors, but then visitor figures gradually waned.
Mr McAslan believes the redesign will be way to bring people back time and time again as it allows 35 per cent more of the collection to be shown and for the first time the public will also be able to view its stores effectively seeing the entire collection.
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Mr McAslan, Executive Chairman of John McAslan + Partners, said: “Everyone can find something at the Burrell and I think the great thing was, in the early days when it opened, there was one million visitors every year. It was incredibly popular but in time, the popularity waned and I think it was because only part of the collection, 20 per cent, was on display and there wasn’t really enough or really any rotation.
“It meant that once you had been to the Burrell, why would you come back apart from it being a beautiful setting in the park. Our job was really to preserve and retain the original character because it is a glorious building by Barry Gassan and of its time.”
Mr McAslan and his company designed the major refit of Kings Cross, costed at £500m, which won a series of architectural and design awards.
His firm also won the right to overhaul the city’s George Square in a £15m scheme, before then-Council Leader Gordon Matheson decided to cancel the project in 2013.
Mr McAslan, whose team have been appointed for a second time to lead a redesign of Glasgow’s George Square, described the Burrell building as unique.
It was thanks to a postal strike in 1971 that helped the design team of Barry Gasson, Brit Andresen and John Meunier submit their entry for the Burrell design competition. The strike allowed them the time for the eventual winning architect Gasson to complete his entry, designed in collaboration with Meunier and Andresen.
“It is pretty unique as a building and was unique when it won the competition. It was the only competition entry that nestled the building next to the woodland edge,” added McAslan.
“Most of the other entrants put the building right in the middle of the park. What Gassan did was push the building right to the edge of the park, right in the woodland which meant you have got this incredible expanse of parkland and a building in its lightness and delicacy it does feel like a conservatory in the park.”
While changes were being made Mr McAslan still recognised the importance of the original building which he described as is one of Britain’s foremost cultural buildings of its time, an established part of Scotland’s architectural heritage.
Changes were made to the fabric of the building to make it more air tight and water tight, and new glazing make it far less susceptible to changes in heat, and the upgrades of plant and systems means the building is far more efficient, and able to take advantage of new technologies in the future to lessen its impact further.
“We loved the building, the collection was good but there were issues such as the lack of rotation, not enough of the collection was on display and there was some technical issues of the roof leaking and we had quite a limited budget,” added Mr McAslan
“The first obligation was to repair the building and that took the majority of the budget. The remainder was on creating one or two incidents if you like that allows the building to connect better and the main one is the hub which is at the heart of the building.
“There was a dark lecture theatre which was never used, no one went into, so we identified one of the key things was trying to open up the heart of the building and we did that by effectively creating a space in the middle of the building which we call the hub and replaced the lecture theatre.
“It means that everything now rotates around the hub and that space is a circulation space that everyone will be able to gravitate towards as it is on the main gallery level.
“We have brought parts of the building into use that previously hadn’t been so it means that when you now walk round the galleries there is a circuit which isn’t broken and in the original building the circuits were broken which meant you could only see part of the building.
“What we did was like a surgical opening up. Our job was to open up the gallery and get much more of the collection on display. Now all of the collection is on site even in stores.”
Mr McAslan feels there is more for people to see with 35 per cent more on show and says it is now much more mathematically presented.
He added: “You can learn about Gassan, you can learn about the collection and how it was made. The storytelling part was critical to enrich the story of Burrell, his collecting, where things were made which I think is a fascinating part of the story.”
For Mr McAslan he has always been interested in Sir William and why he collected.
He added: “This pursuit of art was a compulsion really. It is a mystery in part what initiated that. He drew but he was a man who bought and sold ships with his brother. He was also very eclectic. He knew what he liked and he knew what he didn’t like. His collection stops at Rodin and then he doesn’t go beyond that so he had no particular interest in art from the 20th century.
“He had this amazing way of collecting. He used to circle the auction houses and would pounce eventually. He bought very cleverly and he sold quite a lot so his collecting is what I was more interested in. I was always interested in why he collected.
“There is an interesting American collector, Albert C Barnes from Philadelphia, who only bought French impressionist paintings. There are 800 pieces as opposed to 9000 pieces in the Burrell Collection.
“As wonderful as the Barnes is, what sets the Burrell apart, it is a world class collection – one of the world’s great private art collections it compares in part to the V&A.”