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Sun, 19 Dec 2010

National Museum of Scotland

Over the long weekend of the 3rd to the 6th of December, I went to Edinburgh. This trip was originally meant to be for the Edinburgh Christmas Open Go tournament, and I was also going to visit my little sister and do some important Drinking. As it happened, the Go tournament was cancelled because of SNOWMAGEDDON, but I decided to go anyway - I'd already got the time off work, I'd booked a hotel etc and anyway, the Go tournament was only part of the reason for travelling.

Of course, no Go means I did some touristing instead, and in between drinking delicious boozes we went to the National Museum of Scotland.

The museum has, I'm afraid, suffered from an Architect. I'm sure there's lots of interesting stuff there, and fascinating things to learn about the history of this little backwater of Europe. But unfortunately, the building is utterly unsuitable. All the galleries are small and cramped with completely unnecessary bulky internal walls breaking it up far too much. There's also no coherent themes. It seems that each individual corner of the museum - and it has lots of corners, the pointless walls see to that - is dedicated to something different and I couldn't discern any particular patterns where one theme led to another. Often there's just enough on a theme to whet your appetite, then you walk a few paces to find something completely different.

To a certain extent this is understandable - Scotland is a small country with not much history (after all, which archaeologists would spend their time knee-deep in a peat bog, half frozen and being eaten by midges, when they could instead go to somewhere nicer, like Greece or Mexico? the bad ones who can't get good gigs, that's who) so can't have huge rooms all full of closely related stuff like what the British Museum has in, for instance, its Egyptian galleries. But there are small museums which manage it well. A particularly good example is the Neanderthal Museum, a few miles outside Dusseldorf. There, visitors are guided through a sequence of galleries each of which flows into the next. Each is self-contained, but they also blend thematically from one to the next, so that overall you get a coherent story. Now, obviously the National Museum of Scotland does have rather more to say than the Neanderthal Museum does. And it has a wider variety of stuff to say too. However, there's no reason why it couldn't be presented as several such linked collections of themes with visitors guided through their chosen theme by, for example, coloured lines on the floors.

You still have the problem of the piss-poor architecture to deal with - the pointless interior walls simply shouldn't be there. We know that they're not needed because just about every room in the much older British Museum is bigger than just about every room in the Scottish museum. I'm not normally one to extol the virtues of neo-Classical architecture, but in this case the architects really should have paid attention to what their Georgian and Victorian betters did down in London. The British Museum is a far superior museum building - you can see more, you can find things more easily, it's better lit. If you want a modern building then that's fine, but good architecture should, first, be functional. The British Museum's architects, despite not having an original and creative bone in their bodies, got that right. The Scottish museum's architects did not. The relative merits of everything after that are of no consequence if one building is functional and the other is not. To demonstrate that a thoroughly modern building can indeed be functional, you can, again, look at the Neanderthal Museum.

My recommendation for the trustees of the National Museum of Scotland is that they sue the architects for every penny they paid 'em, tear the place down, and start again. My recommendation for visitors is that until they've done that you find other things to do in Edinburgh. It gets 1 star out of 5.

Posted at 17:29 by David Cantrell
keywords: culture | museum
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