Gairloch Museum

Client: Gairloch and District Heritage Company Ltd


Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020


The leap of imagination involved in viewing what was intended to be an Anti-Aircraft Operations Room (AAOR),  and became a Highland Council Depot instead, into a 21st Century Museum was immense. It was well-worth making, however, and our client must be commended for seeing the prospect and sticking with it.

The AAOR is a concrete box inside a concrete box, built in the 1950s as a command centre that would withstand the effects of a hydrogen bomb blast. Although never kitted out, it is an extraordinarily tough construction and we had to take care in considering where and how that might be changed. The outcome delivers a very precise exercise in plan with few external changes but, where change has been made, effected with utility and drama to the fore.

In essence, the exterior has been dressed to maintain and enhance the monolithic block of the AAOR with the original blast wall reimagined to form the new entrance. That is set in stark contrast to the interior, which was grit-blasted back to the original concrete throughout. The nails that once held the formwork for the concrete roof have also been left in place - now, other than the walls, the oldest visible pieces of the building. 

The largest object and centre-piece for the Museum is a Fresnel Lens, removed from the Rubh Re Lighthouse. This sits within a complex of displays, the materiality of which returns to that of the pristine exterior but bringing the warmth of timber and the complexity and cultural breadth of the Museum’s collections into proper view for the first time. 

Gairloch Museum was opened on 9 July 2019 by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal.

(All photographs by Mark Appleton -

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