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A Cultural Landmark for Leith

What's it about?

Where will it be?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture Custom House, Port of Leith, Edinburgh

17th April 2009

How much will it cost?

A Cultural Landmark for Leith

Leith: An International Heritage Scotland has been for centuries an international nation. Hundreds of thousands of Scots have left for new homes and lives in every part of the globe. Millions have worked and lived abroad, and have served in the forces overseas in war and peace. For centuries too, Scotland’s economic life has depended on the international networks of its traders, merchants, and businesses. Today those links are as important as ever, in the high-tech industries and international financial services so vital for today’s Scotland. Scotland and Scots have also been at the heart of international intellectual and scientific life. From the Enlightenment to the Nobel Prize Winners in the last few decades, to our internationally prestigious universities, and our world-renowned cultural events such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland has made a great contribution to human life and learning. And Scotland has not just been a country from which people have departed. Over the centuries, Scotland has become home to many different people and cultures, ranging from the French and the Flemings of medieval and early modern times, through to the arrival of Irish and Italians from the 19th century onwards and to the Asian and Central and Eastern European communities in more recent times.


A Cultural Landmark for Leith

Leith: An International Heritage This international heritage is reflected and exemplified in the life and fabric of one particular and special Scottish community, Leith. A seaport since at least the 13th century, Leith has been the gateway to both Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole for centuries. It has been the port from which emigrants have departed and where many thousand of new migrants to Scotland have first arrived or settled and continue to do so. It has a long and proud maritime tradition, from medieval traders to fishermen, whalers, explorers and oil prospectors; today it is a centre for cutting-edge renewable technology industries. Leith has also been the setting for some of Scotland’s most significant historical arrivals and departures, among them Mary Queen of Scots, the state visit by George IV and the departure point for the ill-fated Darien expedition. Its story, ranging from the Siege of Leith by Oliver Cromwell through imperial times to the World Wars of the 20th century also reflects the complexity of Scotland’s domestic and international history during those times; and its own commercial and industrial heritage – from merchant seafaring, fishing and whaling, through shipbuilding and manufacturing, through to today’s cultural, new media and high-tech industries – mirrors the changing economy of Scotland.


A Cultural Landmark for Leith

Leith: A New Beginning For many centuries the sea has provided the best means of international communication and trade with thriving seaport cities on every shore. Although seaborne trade is still vital, developing technologies have revolutionised transport systems and communications networks and the great dockland areas of warehouses and workshops have become less necessary. However they occupy some of the most spectacular waterfront areas close to the hearts of cities and lend themselves to redevelopment. Recently many cities, throughout the world, have taken advantage of such opportunities, complete with ready made spectacular landscapes and an eclectic mix of fine architecture, to create new, exciting cityscapes combining residential, retail, commercial and leisure developments. In every case the key buildings in these revitalised docklands areas have been cultural landmarks. The Sydney Opera House; the Amsterdam Museum of Technology; the Lucerne Cultural Centre and, nearer to home, there are current proposals for the Victoria & Albert Museum to open an offshoot on the waterfront in Dundee.

Custom House, Sydney

Waterford Museum

London Docklands Museum

Tate Gallery, Liverpool

Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol

Often these have been new buildings entrusted to leading architects but a significant number of projects have given a new lease of life to fine existing buildings. The Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol; the Granary Heritage Museum in Waterford; the Tate Gallery in Liverpool are good examples. One such cultural centre is the Customs House in Sydney, Australia. Similar to Leith Custom House but on a larger scale, Sydney's Custom House has been transformed into one of the city’s most exciting multi-functional arts spaces, housing museum and exhibition galleries, associated retail outlets and restaurant facilities. A Local Authority initiative, it makes a significant contribution to the cultural life of the city. Edinburgh has embarked upon such a revitalisation of its waterfront, the development anchored in the east by this ancient port of Leith, already undergoing a dramatic change in fortune with many of its 18th and 19th century commercial buildings being converted into homes, shops, hotels and restaurants while exciting modern buildings rise alongside. As yet no major cultural project has been identified, but an opportunity presents itself for just such a project, appropriately housed in what is arguably the most significant building on the Leith waterfront. Leith Custom House, like its counterpart in Sydney, is in a unique position to perform a similar role, sited at the very centre of the anchor point of the development area, and already surrounded by the most vibrant regeneration programme taking place in Edinburgh at the moment.


A Cultural Landmark for Leith

Leith: A Cultural Focus We believe that there is a need to establish in Leith a cultural landmark that celebrates the heritage of the local community - a crucial part of Scotland’s links with the wider world - the potentials for the future and the changing nature of Scotland’s people and society that have been brought about in part by the arrivals and departures which Leith has witnessed over the years. We envisage a venue that is part museum, part exhibition gallery, part education and community centre which, although having a historical focus would also include material and organise educational and outreach activities that demonstrate the current international links of Leith and Edinburgh, setting today’s community in its historical context. As well as the display of historical artefacts, the museum and centre would include exhibition and interpretive material, interactive displays, and would also offer itself as venue for relevant seminars, lectures, temporary exhibitions, and outreach activity within the wider community. As befits an area that is home to so many artists and creative professionals, all the arts would be strongly represented at the Custom House. The refurbishment of the interior, architecturally exemplary, would provide versatile spaces suitable for occasional use as visual and applied arts galleries and performance of music or theatre.

One of the objectives of a feasibility study will be to identify the range of possibilities, but we can envisage the provision of retail facilities with a marine character offering premises for the sale of chandlery and related goods and even seafood, studio workshops for artists and crafts people, with associated retail spaces and space for corporate functions and exhibitions as well as the provision of café/restaurant facilities that would also be available for private functions such as weddings and other celebrations. The secluded ‘street’ formed by the gated courtyard at the rear of the building offers a perfect venue for street events such as the farmers market and the weekend Leith Market that has had such difficulty finding a home. Protected from the weather and with the potential to be canopied, this area would provide opportunities for many outdoor activities that are often so vulnerable to the Scottish climate. Traders from other parts of the world, particularly those traditionally associated with the Port of Leith could be encouraged to sell their wares as could members of the various cultural communities that the centre would aim to serve.

With the advent of Oil, Leith has become centre of operations for a number of international companies who are re-establishing links with some of the port’s old trading partners in Eastern Europe, the Baltic and even into the Caspian. All these emerging economies have a rich store of art that provides a window into the turbulent history of the past half century or more and is largely unknown in the West. An exciting opportunity exists to establish a focal point for cultural exchange through the arts and thereby to strengthen the commercial ties that have such a long heritage here. We believe that such a museum and centre would attract both new and existing visitors to Leith and Edinburgh (particularly the many people across the world with a historical or family connection to Leith), expanding the local tourist market, and providing a focus of economic regeneration in a part of Edinburgh which still has unemployment substantially above the city average. Moreover, as well as attracting tourists and visitors, we have no doubt that such a museum and centre would also be well patronised by the Leith and Edinburgh community. Indeed, the focus on placing today’s community in its historical context would also help to strengthen intracommunity links in today’s Scotland of many cultures, providing an environment in which they could come together to promote closer understanding. An essential element in any development of this kind is the ability to generate ongoing revenue funding to ensure a viable future. The Custom House building and location appears to offer excellent opportunities for the development of commercial enterprises associated with the concept of an international museum and centre.

Custom House, Leith


What's it about?

Trading Places: Interpretive Platform This interpretive platform is designed to help establish what this museum could be about, including what will be its name, core proposition, central messages and stories. This has been created in advance of a thorough feasibility study which would likely include a more comprehensive interpretive strategy looking at learning, emotional, behavioural, functional and education objectives for the interpretation of the collections and loans.



sub name

what’s it about? (core proposition)

It is vitally important to establish a cohesive and coherent point of difference for this museum that will help bring together our potentially disparate collection of objectives and messages under a single unifying umbrella. This will help guide what the museum is about and determine what our visitors will take home in their heads and hearts.

Museum of Custom and Culture Arrivals and Departures The Port of Leith’s pivotal role in the international exchange of peoples, ideas, cultures and customs, past, present and into the future.

central messages

Arrivals Mary Queen of Scots George IV Irish and Italians Asians Europe and Baltic States

Departures Darien Expedition Diaspora Explorers Europe and Baltic States

support stories Leith at Leisure Leith races Golf Football Social Clubs Pubs and Restaurants

Leith Lives Communities Schools Hospitals Housing Shops Faiths Transport

Leith at Work Shipbuilding Fishing Whaling Coopering Merchants Dockers IT and Media

Leith at War Siege of Leith Napoleonic Wars WWI WWII


What's it about?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture This museum will become a truly special place. A hub and cultural landmark for Leith. In this historic maritime setting, a visit will be a unique experience, combining permanent and temporary exhibitions with wonderful objects and human stories, cafes and restaurants, learning and community facilities, corporate and private function facilities, indoor and out door events and retail. The interpretive techniques for the permanent and temporary exhibition elements will be exciting, thought provoking, interactive creating a layered, multiple media approach to enhance accessibility and enjoyment for all user groups regardless of age, gender or ability. Be they visitors from Edinburgh, Scotland, the UK and overseas or local groups and schools, the interpretation of Leith's international cultural and commercial history, told through human stories and historic objects, will meet a range of learning styles, break down preconceptions and prejudices and encourage creative thinking. We want the visitor to connect with the individual stories we tell and to be able to relate these to the overall 'trading places' 'arrivals and departures' core message. We will aim to vary the interpretive delivery of the subject matter so that the galleries create variety and surprise during a visit – keeping people engaged and entertained. Our aim will be to help the visitors ‘feel’, ‘hear’, ‘taste’, and ‘see’ the past, and relate this past to their present.


What's it about?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture

Notional Exhibition Interior


What's it about?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture

Notional exhibition interior with cased and open display artefacts, audio visual and interactives


What's it about?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture

Notional exhibition interior with cased and open display artefacts, audio visual and interactives


What's it about?

Trading Places: Museum of Custom and Culture

Notional exhibition interior with cased and open display artefacts, audio visual and interactives


Where will it be?

Custom House: The Building

Background The neo-classical building was constructed in 1810-12 by Robert Reid and consisted of a two storey building with an attic storey and a stable range to the rear. Extensive alterations were carried out by William Burns in 1825 including; the perron stair, the single storey pavilions to the east and west sides and substantial internal alterations, including the main stair. There is an open courtyard to the north which runs between gates on the east and west elevations. The courtyard gives access to the stable block. The main building is Custom House and the stable block to the rear is known as the Cruiser Store. The buildings are listed as category A. The buildings are owned by the National Museums of Scotland and are currently used for storage of artefacts and records. The environment of the building is managed to block out daylight and maintain constant levels of humidity and temperature. All the shutters on the windows are currently closed and there is little human interaction with the building. The closed nature of the current use is not maximising the potential of the building, since externally the building provides one of Leith’s most impressive landmarks, and its quayside location offers great opportunity. The Customs House building is constructed of broached ashlar. Wall details include; base course, band courses, dentilled cornice, balustraded parapet and panelled features. The roof consists of slates to the pitches and lead to the flat with parapet gutters all around. There are three cupola lights on the lead flat roof. The Cruiser store building is constructed of squared coursed rubble with stugged ashlar dressings and slated pitched roofs with lead flashings. Rainwater disposal is via cast iron rhones and downpipes. Windows are sash and case and doors are panelled. There have been a number of modern alterations within the courtyard area. There is currently evidence of decay in areas associated with the roof, due to water ingress.


Where will it be?

Custom House: The Building Planning


The design intent is to respect the existing building, but also bring it back into life for modern day public use. The external façades and roof are to be restored where required. It is proposed to remove the modern additions within the courtyard area and restore original features.

It is recommended that, given the poor condition of the majority of current services, they are completely stripped out and replaced with new energy efficient systems which are bespoke and in empathy with the listed building.

Externally there are proposals for alterations within the courtyard area in order to open this space up for public use and at the entrance to resolve disabled access requirements. Internally it is proposed to open up the internal spaces as much as is possible to facilitate the requirements of the museum to their full potential.

There are two concepts considered for servicing the exhibition spaces. The first is to install air conditioning, which will also involve the sealing of the building envelope within exhibition spaces. The advantage of this approach is that there is flexibility in the types and locations for exhibits. There will be a requirement for large pieces of equipment and large exposed or concealed ductwork running through the main exhibition areas. The second option is to consider the use of cases with controlled microclimates for exhibits, natural ventilation of the building and reuse of the existing radiators for heating. This option will however limit the type and location of exhibits that can be displayed. Natural ventilation could be achieved through trickle ventilation via the existing windows on Commercial Street which is directed towards the stairwell, where it can rise to the central cupola which is to be elevated on top of a louvered outlet. The cupolas on the first floor level can be used in a similar way to ventilate the upper level. A variation on the second option, which will provide greater control, is to provide mechanical supply instead of trickle ventilation with the same extract strategy. The river may also be used as a source for cooling requirements.

The proposed concept design has not yet been discussed with Historic Scotland or Planning, though there has been initial contact. Site Design The intention is to attract visitors to this facility and make it easy for the public to interact with the various functions within the buildings. There is a bus stop on Commercial Street adjacent to the main entrance. The rooms along Commercial Street are to be used as main exhibition spaces, allowing views into these spaces from the street. The large windows, within recessed arches, on the single storey pavilions to the east and west elevations are directly onto the pavement and ideally suited to attract the public into the building. The west pavilion is proposed for exhibits and the east for the Museum Shop.

The other proposed serviced areas are generally located to the rear courtyard elevation, including a plant room, lift, toilet facilities and kitchen. This will minimise any disruption to the main street facades The Shop

The east pavilion is also adjacent to the river and its location suits the proposed use for a Cafe, which can also extend to the outside. There is potential to make use of the river for floating exhibits and boat trips and bring this landscape into the public realm. There is also great potential to open up the rear courtyard area and develop an exciting external space as a natural extension of the indoor spaces. The east and west tall ashlar gateways with round-headed arches and boarded gates can be opened up to reveal an external exhibits and seating area, which also gives access to proposed Commercial Units and the Café.

The visitor exits through the shop to gain access to the café and can also exit the museum via a new ramp to the east. The shop is located close to the existing bus stop on Commercial Street, allowing a public face directly on the main street and views into the sales areas. Access into the shop can also be direct via the ramp. The shop area is designed to be independent and can be securely closed off from the museum and café areas via glazed doors. Corporate / Community functions It is possible to allocate exhibition space for corporate or community use, depending on the location of the exhibits within these spaces. Toilet facilities have been located at each floor level to assist in facilitating this. There is flexibility in the number of spaces that can be opened up to the public out with museum opening hours, including the external courtyard area and café.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Location Plan Concept Drawings An accurate measured survey is required prior to any further design work being carried out, together with a conditions survey. All work to date is conceptual and intended to demonstrate the great potential for this historic building.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Existing Site


Where will it be?

Custom House: Existing Ground Floor Plan


Where will it be?

Custom House: Existing First Floor Plan


Where will it be?

Custom House: Site Plan Concept


Where will it be?

Custom House: Entrance Entrance and Disabled Access The existing main entrance off Commercial Street is a grand three bay pedimented centrepiece with a pair of fluted Greek Doric columns set between broad piers. There is a panelled door with moulded architrave and cornice and perron steps to the entrance. This grand entrance to the main building unfortunately does not lend itself to modern day requirements for disabled access. Achieving appropriate disabled access to the building is key to the successful development of these facilities. The proposed solution is to carefully remove the external stone steps and remove the internal raised floor level in the entrance hall and office area. The existing detailing of the door and architraves will be sensitively replicated to allow the existing door to be extended to ground floor level. This design solution enables all users to enter through the main entrance, whilst also respecting the existing historic building. A lift is proposed internally to the rear west of the building and also serves as transportation of exhibits as required. Toilet facilities appropriate for use by the disabled are required at each floor level and these are located both within the main toilet facilities areas and next to the lift area.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Entrance


Where will it be?

Custom House: Ground Floor Plan Concept


Where will it be?

Custom House: Ground Floor Plan Layout


Where will it be?

Custom House: Reception Reception & Visitor Flow The visitor will enter through the grand entrance doors into an open reception area with views into the adjacent exhibition spaces to the east and west. The shop entrance will also be clearly visible to the east, beyond the exhibition space. Directly in front will be a reception desk with a feature wall behind and also a part glazed wall to allow views into the main central stair beyond. There will be a sense of openness, space and intrigue for the visitor to be drawn further into the building and exhibits. At ground floor and first floor level there are two exhibition spaces, either side of the main central stair. Access to the first floor can be either via the main original stair, the lift or the glazed spiral stair which also takes visitors out into the courtyard area and gives them a view of external exhibits and commercial activities. It is proposed to open up the exhibition spaces as much as possible, particularly on the ground floor. This will assist in efficient use of space and visitor flows and maximise flexibility.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Ground Floor Visuals


Where will it be?

Custom House: Quayside Cafe

24 14

Where will it be?

Custom House: Quayside Cafe

The Cafe The Café location exploits the potential of the river, which can be developed to include floating exhibits for the museum. The café is also designed so that it can be independent of the museum facilities when the museum is shut. The use of the adjacent external area is ideally suited for an external café and could become an exciting public space. The café is entered via glazed doors into a lounge area and then on to an area of benched seating and tables, adjacent to the deli area. The different areas will have different floor and ceiling finishes and it is proposed to create a feature on the wall directly behind the servery area using an historic image of Leith. The existing oval room adjacent to the café area can be used as an extension to the eating area and also for private functions. There is access directly from the café into the courtyard area via new glazed doors.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Quayside Cafe


Where will it be?

Custom House: First Floor Concept


Where will it be?

Custom House: First Floor Concept


Where will it be?

Custom House: Roof Design


Where will it be?

Custom House: Museum Services Option 1 - Air Conditioning to BS5454


Where will it be?

Custom House: Museum Services Option 2a - Natural Ventilation


Where will it be?

Custom House: Museum Services Option 2b - Mechanical Supply & Natural Extract


Where will it be?

Custom House: Ground Floor Fire Strategy Fire Escape A major consideration in the proposed conversion of the Custom House building into a public building is the issue of fire escape, particularly from first floor level. The anticipated occupancy capacity of the first floor requires a minimum of two storey exits and therefore an additional stair is required. The design proposes a spiral stair within a glass faรงade, located to the rear within the west courtyard area and adjacent to the proposed new lift within the building. This stair serves also as a visual link with the courtyard space for both visitors to the museum and customers of the commercial units, with the intention to bring interest and life into each area. Locating the stair externally also ensures maximising the potential exhibition space within the Custom House building and minimising internal disruption. An initial consideration of the first floor fire escape strategy suggests that it is possible to achieve the requirements for travel distance, as long as escape into different exits of the same stair is acceptable (with regards escape from the east side of the building). Should this not be acceptable, a second spiral escape stair can be located to the rear elevation on the east side of the courtyard.


Where will it be?

Custom House: First Floor Fire Strategy Fire Escape Fire escape from the ground floor level has also been considered and should be achievable. Escape from the main original stair is proposed to be a new exit to the rear courtyard area. The main exhibition spaces will need to be fire compartments and areas of different uses will also require compartmentation. The existing construction should satisfy this requirement, with the inclusion of fire doors as required. In order to maintain the openness of the museum spaces for visitors, it is proposed that the doors are permanently held in the open position, but in the event of a fire alarm they will automatically close. Each individual commercial unit within the Cruiser Store building will require to be separated into fire compartments. Initial considerations of the regulations suggest that the concept design will be acceptable with regards fire escape. It is important to enter into detailed discussions with a Fire Officer prior to progressing further with the concept design


Where will it be?

Custom House: Cruiser Store Concept


Where will it be?

Custom House: Commercial Units


Where will it be?

Custom House: Commercial Units Commercial Units The Cruiser Store building offers an opportunity for the development of commercial enterprises associated with the museum. This building converts well into six commercial units at ground level with six craft workshops above. The design intent is to respect and restore the original elevations to the streets, but alter the internal elevation onto the courtyard area to create inviting new shop fronts for the commercial units. The removal of the existing boiler house will assist in facilitating this.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Courtyard The Courtyard The courtyard is entered from either the east or west gate and is intended to be a multifunctional place including; external exhibits for the museum, access to the commercial units and a public space, which may also be used for private functions and market days. External seating areas and landscaping should assist in making this space an attractive place with links to the museum, the commercial units, the cafĂŠ, the river and the surrounding streets. Consideration could be made for partial cover or tented structure to allow weather protection.


Where will it be?

Custom House: Courtyard


Where will it be?

Custom House: Section


Where will it be?

Custom House: Elevations


How much will it cost?

Custom House: Costs Summary High level costs based on historical benchmarked cost data at present day rates. Museum


Cruiser Building

£ 800,000

External Works

£ 300,000



Associated capital costs including: VAT Professional Fees Legal Costs Land/Site Acquisition Costs Financing Charges Planning & Building Warrant Fees Capital Allowances, Grants and Contributions Running Costs Artifax Costs Café Licenses Total



Thankyou The potential benefits from such a development, for visitors, for the local community and for Edinburgh as a whole are, we believe, self-evident. But our faith in the project and enthusiasm for it must be reinforced by independent examination, market research and proof of its viability. Accordingly the next step in the journey towards realisation of the project must be to commission a study to determine the feasibility of our aspirations. We are now seeking partners who will support and assist with the funding of that study which, if it gives a positive outcome, will provide the impetus to take the project on to the next stage of development.

This document and it contents have been put together on a voluntary bases by:

Mark Lazarowicz MP for Edinburgh North & Leith

A Slight Shift

Contact: Michael Walchover

Studio MB

Museum & Exhibition Designers Contact:


Architects, urban designers, master planners and visualisation Contact:

Cyril Sweett Group

Cost Consultants Contact:

Helen Clark

City of Edinburgh Council Culture and Sport, Museums and Galleries All drawings and text remain the intellectual property of the above.


Trading Places: A Museum of Custom and Culture  

We believe that there is a need to establish in Leith a cultural landmark that celebrates the heritage of the local community - a crucial pa...

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