What does a museum look like with no objects? A guided tour of our new galleries

If you’ve been to the National Museum of Scotland in recent months, you might have noticed that things look a little… different. Some of our galleries are closed, colourful hoardings mingle with display cases, and Dolly the Sheep is nowhere to be seen. Just what’s been going on?

Never fear, everything will soon return to normal. Over the last year, we’ve been getting ready to open ten brand new galleries this summer. These will showcase the very best of our collections in decorative art, design, fashion, science and technology, with more than 3,000 objects on display.

But right now, they’re empty… So taking advantage of the short gap between the end of restoration work and installing all those objects, I joined a behind-the-scenes tour with our project manager Drew.

First things first, the donning of the safety gear. I’d secretly been hoping for a hard hat and high-viz vest but instead had to make do with these rather fetching blue booties. Like our beautiful Grand Gallery, these new spaces were built in the Victorian era. The tiles and wood flooring are original features, so they need some careful attention before we open – and in the meantime, visitors need to cover their shoes.

Our tour started in Art of Living. Painted in a calming sea blue with an arching ceiling, it felt like the perfect space to discover some of the more opulent objects in the museum.

Our new Art of Living gallery
Our new Art of Living gallery

One of the stars of the show here will be our Hamilton Palace fireplace wall, built up again from hundreds of pieces of marble and wood by our dedicated conservation team. It’ll be joined by treasures and objets d’art spanning the 13th to the 19th centuries. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVFeiFu-CII[/youtube] From Art of Living, we made our way through to three more Art and Design galleries: Design for Living, Making and Creating, and Fashion and Style.

Three new gallery spaces for Fashion and Style, Making and Creating, and Design for Living
Three new gallery spaces for Fashion and Style, Making and Creating, and Design for Living.

Suddenly those blue slippers weren’t feeling so fashionable. A change of colour scheme too, a bright ochre yellow. Which my Bernat Klein Personal Colour Guide tells me will go quite nicely with a beautiful Zandra Rhodes coat, an exquisite 17th-century Mantua court dress, some quirky bear grease pots, Owen Jones’ 1856 design bible The Grammar of Ornament…  

Taking a break between filming with Owen Jones’ #design bible, The Grammar of Ornament (1856) #museumweek #secretsMW   A photo posted by Núria Ruiz (@publishingnuria) on

It’s not all dresses and palaces though; six of our new galleries are dedicated to Science and Technology. Head to the ground floor, stroll through original Victorian archways and you’ll find yourself in Explore, surrounded by aeroplanes, Dolly the Sheep and other science superstars like our ever-popular working models.


I loved the feel of Explore. It’s very similar to the Grand Gallery, with its gentle blue hues, towering columns and airy glasswork. I was longing to linger here amongst the Boulton & Watt Engine and the Black Knight rocket, I’ve no doubt visitors will too.

Admiring the new Science and Technology galleries
Admiring the new Science and Technology galleries

But science was calling my name and there were still five new spaces to explore: Making It, Enquire, Energise, Communicate and Technology by Design. Spiralling out and above Explore, these new galleries will show off the very best of our science collections.

Spend a day here and you’ll learn about manufacturing, energy, engineering and design, information and communications technology, and the very nature of scientific enquiry. They’re not in the galleries yet, but I recommend science buffs look out for our 3D printer (currently in use by our Natural Sciences department to catalogue fossil finds) and the melancholy Pilcher’s Hawk, perhaps one of the most poignant stories in our collections.

Our curators and conservators are already installing more than 3,000 objects into these galleries, so they won’t be empty for long. And it won’t be long before you can see them for yourself either! Our new galleries open to the public this summer.

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