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Fitzgerald Kavanagh & Partners appointed to lead Design Team for the National History Museum Refurbishment Project

Architects Fitzgerald Kavanagh & Partners have been appointed by the Commissioners of Public Works to lead the integrated design team for the refurbishment of the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History. This appointment marks the beginning of the first phase of the design works which will see the building close this September to enable the full decant of specimens and commencement of investigative work which will inform the extensive refurbishment required.

This is a flagship project for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the National Development Plan and will be delivered by the National Museum of Ireland working in partnership with the Office of Public Works as the contracting authority and technical lead.

The Natural History Museum was constructed in 1856 and is often referred to as a ‘Museum in a Museum’. A magnificent Victorian artefact in its own right, it has changed very little in the last 168 years. A full refurbishment of the building is necessary to ensure that the building is protected, conserved, and made accessible for future generations. The refurbishment project will also address long-standing issues with accessibility, enhance the museum experience and engage visitors with the Museum’s unique collection and role in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change.

The full extent of the project includes:

• A comprehensive refurbishment of the Museum which will meet best practice sustainability and environmental control standards.

• Improved collections care, collections management and stewardship.

• Addressing accessibility issues including lifts, internal staircases and upper balcony areas.

• Creating additional learning, exhibition and multi-functional spaces within the historic building.

• Protecting, restoring and conserving the historic building fabric and improving health and safety, including fire safety.

The Wonder Cabinet in the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History, Merrion Street, Dublin 2, photographed 23 June 2020. Exterior from between rows of table cases.

In 2010, the Museum had to close the upper galleries due to their unsuitability for safe visitor access. In 2020, the Museum closed temporarily to facilitate the removal of the whale skeletons suspended from the roof and the packing and removal of 20,000 specimens, and in order to install an internal platform and environmental seal. This internal platform structure protects the building and its contents, while also enabling initial investigative works on the roof and informing the overall project scope more accurately.

Since the Museum reopened in 2022 only the ground floor has been open to the public. This next phase will see the complete closure of the NMI – Natural History to the public this September, to enable the remaining 10,000 specimens to be carefully wrapped up and removed from the building, followed by the development of the design and planning for the extensive conservation and refurbishment works.

The investigative works and design phase will determine the full programme of works, duration and total cost of the project.

For the period of closure, a new ‘Dead Zoo Lab’ will be created in the Riding School at the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks site in Spring 2025, ensuring that the public can still visit some favourite specimens such as Spoticus the Giraffe and the Giant Irish Deer, and also some specimens that haven’t been on display for years such as the collection of Blaschka glass models of marine life.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin T.D. said, “Today is another milestone in the exciting redevelopment of the Natural History Museum. Both, the historic building and the collection it is home to, are much loved by the Irish people, and I am really pleased that the work is progressing on this project which will deliver a modern, safer venue that is more accessible and engaging and will protect both, the building and the collection, for future generations.”

Kieran O’ Donnell T.D., Minister of State with the responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) stated, “The iconic Natural History Museum, constructed over 160 years ago is home to thousands of natural historic specimens. The building is in much need of restoration and repair to ensure the preservation of this unique collection and the conservation of the building itself. I greatly welcome that the ambitious refurbishment plan is progressing to the next phase, which will allow the necessary investigative works to commence to better inform the refurbishment required. This project will ensure that the historic building and its collections are protected and made more accessible for generations to come. I am delighted that the OPW, in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will be involved in delivering this exciting project”.

Chair of the National Museum of Ireland, Prof Cathal O’ Donoghue said, “This is an exciting milestone for the National Museum of Ireland because this refurbishment is so badly needed, and we are delighted to be supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media and the Office of Public Works to initiate this important phase of the project. The Natural History building has been experiencing issues for many years and this investment will ensure that it can be conserved and protected for future generations.”

Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, said, “A drafty, leaky building that is not accessible to anyone with mobility impairment does not do justice to our wonderful visitors and the incredible collection we have in Natural History. It is wonderful that we are moving to the next phase of this refurbishment project with the support of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media and the Office of Public Works. The entire building will close in September to enable this phase and the collection will be moved in its entirety to Collins Barrack and to our collection storage facility. We know it will be missed, it is a much loved and cherished part of our cultural and architectural history. Everyone working on the project wants to ensure that it is only closed for the minimum amount of time possible. We are also working on making as much of the natural history collection available as possible to the public during that time, in the ‘Dead Zoo Lab’ which will open at our Collins Barracks site next year.”

Paolo Viscardi, Keeper of the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History, said, “We are delighted that this refurbishment is moving forward. We all love the building, and these works will make the building and collection more accessible and more engaging, as well as conserving the building itself to ensure that it can safely protect the irreplaceable specimens that call it home. The new Dead Zoo Lab at Collins Barracks will be a fantastic substitute while the building is closed, and the Museum’s Learning and Community team are also developing new ways to share the collection with the public as part of its year-round extensive outreach programme.”

Fitzgerald Kavanagh & Partners specialise in conservation works of protected and old buildings, and previous projects include St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford and the oldest building on the Grangegorman campus, Lower House.

The Ground Floor of the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History will remain open until September 2nd. The National Museum of Ireland is open seven days a week and admission is free.

(Source: Office of Public Works)

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