New setback for Scottish National Gallery project

The transformation of Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery is ‘on track’ to be completed by the end of the year but will not open to the public until summer 2023, we learned today .

The National Galleries of Scotland said the project is entering its final phase with a series of crucial milestones completed and all major engineering challenges now successfully overcome.

Teams working on the project faced an “incredibly challenging location”, set in a World Heritage Site that includes an iconic 19th century A-listed building with several major modern additions from the late 1960s, a- he added.

The creation of new gallery spaces resulted in extensive excavations beneath the existing building and its location on the mound. The arts body said “unexpected remnants” of previous developments added “significant complexity” to the construction work. These include “deeply buried layers of dense concrete” and “other undocumented obstructions” that had to be dug out before major waterproofing work could be completed to protect the new development for the future.

Additionally, the location of a key area of ​​the site directly above Mound’s three railway tunnels, among the busiest in Scotland, posed distinct logistical challenges. These challenges have all been successfully overcome and the construction work is entering its final phase, he added.

National Galleries of Scotland chief executive Sir John Leighton said: “We are delighted to look forward to the opening in summer 2023 of the magnificent new spaces to be delivered by the Scottish National Gallery Project. They will allow our visitors to experience and appreciate the finest Scottish art in a fully accessible suite of world-class facilities right in the center of Edinburgh.

“Reaching this stage has been no small feat, given the unique set of construction challenges facing the project, all against the very difficult backdrop of the global pandemic. With these now largely overcome, our attention can now focus on preparing the new galleries for a joyous and festive unveiling next year.

In February 2020, the National Galleries of Scotland reported the discovery of unexpected flaws in the 1970s building which sits beneath the original 19th century National Gallery. These include moisture ingress and inadequate drainage in and around the site. A commitment has been made to address these issues to ensure the building is fully protected and safeguarded for the future, with an expected completion date of around “the end of 2021”.

However, the combined stoppage of work due to the lockdown, as well as the complex and changing nature of the construction requirements, led the organization to further review project timelines.

While construction is underway, an extensive program of engagement and outreach for the project has also been put in place, involving schools in Fife, Orkney and West Lothian, social groups for older people living alone in Edinburgh and youth groups in the Borders. Digital activity has further extended the reach of the project through a series of rich and engaging videos of featured artworks from the Scottish collection, and a careful monumental conservation project has captivated audiences online during lockdown.

The £22million redevelopment, which had started with an initial budget of £16.8million, was delayed for “several months” in March 2017 after the National Galleries of Scotland announced that aspects of the construction, namely the proposal to build by another five meters in East Princes Street Gardens, were more complex and expensive than originally anticipated.

A revised plan for the development unveiled two months later scrapped the extension in East Princes Street Gardens and pushed the whole project back a year for further design work.

The first phase of the Scottish National Gallery project was successfully completed in 2019. This included a new entrance area in East Princes Street Gardens, a new cafe, a refurbished restaurant and shop, an expansive terrace in sandstone and new landscaping and paths to improve access to the gardens and galleries.