Glasgow’s Riverside Museum & the Museum of Liverpool: money well spent?

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History is now being housed in the most modern of buildings, but architectural excellence comes at a price. June saw the opening of internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid’s first major public building in the UK, the Riverside Museum: Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel. And just last week, Tuesday 19th July, The Museum of Liverpool, the largest newly built museum in the UK for over 100 years, opened its doors to the public.

I spent many an afternoon at Glasgow’s old and dilapidated transport museum with its brick industrial-style exterior and 1970s-inspired interior. The new building located on Pointhouse Quay at Glasgow Harbour retains that industrial warehouse feel, but with a much more contemporary aesthetic.

Riverside Museum (Flickr: Culture & Sport Glasgow)

Riverside Museum (Flickr: Culture & Sport Glasgow)

The tunnel-like structure opens at each end, making it “porous to its context on either side”, and connecting the city of Glasgow with the River Clyde. Historically, the site has been a ferry crossing since the middle ages, making it a fitting tribute to the transport relics housed inside.

Cleverly engineered by Buro Happold, the steel frame is concealed within the building shell, which maintains a constant distance of 37cm from the steelwork. To overcome difficult site conditions and to support the weight of the large exhibits, the interior floor is made up of 30cm-thick reinforced concrete and approximately 5000m2 of COREgravel surfacing was supplied for the car park. The glass facades at each end keep air leakage at a minimum and reduce the demand for heating and cooling. But the most impressive aspect of this structure is its beautifully pleated roof.

Riverside Museum - aerial view during construction (Zaha Hadid Architects)

The Museum of Liverpool is also engineered by Buro Happold, and like Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, has a modern, column-free interior. Located at the UNESCO World Heritage Site between the Albert Dock and the Pier Head, the building has “inclined or elevated platforms, gradually forming a sculptural structure”, and features an organic, circular staircase as its centerpiece. It has a steel construction and is clad with 5700m2 of natural Jura stone cladding. The angular and dynamic aesthetic of the building is juxtaposed against the neighboring Port of Liverpool Building, built in 1898.

Museum of Liverpool (3XN)

Museum of Liverpool staircase

The Museum of Liverpool is powered by renewable and energy-efficient technologies in an effort to reduce carbon emissions by 884 tonnes per year. An advanced combined heat and power (CHP) system will also guarantee yearly energy savings of over £500,000.

But despite energy conscious savings, many will grumble that a combined £140 million spend on new age museums is unjustifiable in this age of austerity. The Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen argues: “If enhancement of the public realm is the aim, the money could have been better spent on cleaning up litter and eliminating eyesores”. But chairman of National Museums Liverpool, Professor Phil Redmond, believes that cultural heritage is important: “In 20 to 30 years we’ll look back and think this is a fantastic investment.  We know from our time as Capital of Culture that every £1 brings back £10-£12 into the local economy.”

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