The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Careful conservation and bold spatial reorganisation helps celebrate our national collection

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, an iconic Edinburgh building designed by Rowand Anderson and opened in 1889, is cherished by many for its unique blend of urban design, baronial gothic style, and the harmonious combination of elegance and industrial technology.Externally, the restoration efforts focused on stonework and windows, while internally, the Conservation Plan guided the careful preservation of the building’s various elements. The main objective was to make the second and first floors accessible to the public, showcasing permanent collections and hosting temporary exhibitions.

Notably, the conservation of stained and leaded glass aimed to retain original materials for structural stability. Where necessary, re-glazing with new lead calmes was performed, preserving sound lead work and intricate details to prevent unnecessary damage. Internally, the project aimed to enhance fire and water safety for the Collection, create adaptability for changing gallery needs, and deliver a durable, high-quality environment capable of withstanding the wear and tear of gallery use.


The adaptations made to the Portrait Gallery have transformed physical access both into and around the building, and critically, two new openings on either side of the existing entrance vestibule at ground floor level have been formed to increase visibility and encourage visitor flow to the contemporary galleries, seminar room, café and shop. A new, ramped, legible mezzanine floors along the rear of the building has been inserted.  These mezzanines provide the answers to several problems: additional usable space for cellular and open plan offices, storage and an alternative escape route.

The gallery spaces provide a variety of characters in which to display the collection. Just inside the entrance, the newly formed temporary gallery presents a diverse programme of work and the first floor galleries celebrate the industrial aesthetic of the original structure. The enfilade upper floor galleries present work in a more traditional setting, albeit with clever solutions to enable natural top light to be used, developed in conjunction with lighting designer Foto-ma.


Throughout the building, temporary partitions, lowered ceilings and window blockings have, where practically possible been carefully removed to allow the robust spaces to work as originally intended. The architectural language of the interventions takes its lead from the originally intended materiality of the exposed steel structure within the Rowand Anderson gallery spaces with the original steel beams now exposed where feasible.  The new elements touch the building lightly allowing the existing spaces, structure and forms to become preeminent.

Project Info

National Galleries of Scotland
April 2011
Scottish Design Awards 2012 - Leisure / Culture Building
RIBA Award 2012
GIA Conservation Award
Special Mention for the Andy Doolan Award 2012
Carbon Trust Low Carbon Building Award 2012
Building Conservation Award, RICS Scotland Awards 2013
Scotland Project of the Year Award, RICS Scotland Awards 2013
Highly Commended in Public Buildings category, Lighting Design Awards 2013
UK Property Award 2013
National Civic Trust Award 2013
Project Manager
Gardiner & Theobald
Structural Engineer
Will Rudd Davidson
M&E Engineer
Harley Haddow LLP
Cost Consultant
David Langdon
CDM Co-ordinator
Gardiner & Theobald
Andrew Lee
Lighting Consultant
Interior Designer
Graven Images