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New Shetland Museum & Archives

Commercial & Leisure

New Shetland Museum & Archives

Project Info

The New Shetland Museum & Archives – the most northerly in the UK – was conceived to integrate Shetland’s Museum and its Archives in a single new building which would act as a heritage hub for the wide historic and cultural services provided by the Shetland Amenity Trust.

The project is located in the centre of Lerwick within the Category B Listed Hays Dock*. Built in the 19th Century it is the last remaining in Shetland and its intimate scale and maritime location were the major drivers in the design of the New Museum.

The Building

The Museum is designed to display over 3,000 unique artefacts from the Islands’ extensive Collection and comprises two floors of north-facing Display Galleries; Temporary Exhibition Area; 120 seat Cinema/Lecture Theatre; Education Suite; and 60 seat Restaurant.

The Archives facility comprises a Main Repository and a Public Search Room housing Shetland’s written records, and the fourth largest collection of photography in Scotland.

A strong influence on the building’s external design was Lerwick’s traditional waterfront structures built with their gables to the sea and, fittingly, the building is constructed of mainly traditional materials.

Towering over its western extremity is the timber-clad Boat Hall providing exhibition space for Shetland’s outstanding collection of historic boats – including the last surviving sixareen, a direct descendant of the Viking Longship – and five other boats, suspended within its naturally lit volume.

The Use of Wood

Although the Shetland archipelago is completely devoid of any trees, its close trading links with Norway has historically ensured the wide use of wood in the construction of its buildings – rendering it an ‘indigenous’ building material to the islands. Consequently timber is used throughout the Museum and Archives to provide a sustainable and welcoming ambience.

All flooring is of reclaimed English Oak boarding, all windows are timber and restaurant furniture is purpose designed and locally crafted from reclaimed oak.

Even the Reception desk has been created by a sculptor from the salvaged keel of a submerged 18th century sailing ship

The most innovative and striking use of wood however, is in the building’s unique 4 storey high Boat Hall.

Contrasting with its otherwise conventional architecture, the building’s presence is punctuated by the iconic form of the Boat Hall, whose sloping walls are conceived as large, abstract ‘sails’ separated by full height, slit windows. In colour and form these echo the sails of the Herring Drifters which were built in the preserved Boatsheds and which wintered in and around Hays Dock throughout much of the last two centuries. Its steel framed structure is clad in prefabricated cassettes of Siberian Larch. Externally the wood has a sawn finish to better absorb the timber stain which gives it its distinctive match with the tarred sails of a century ago.

Inside it has a sanded finish and is coated in colourless flame-retardant varnish.

The merging of this iconic, wooden Boat Hall with the modern interpretation of indigenous buildings, has resulted in a unique Architectural assemblage, unmatched anywhere – and yet one which is grounded in the Shetland Isles and their inseparable relationship with the sea.

*restoration by NGRArchitects

LocationLerwick, Shetland Islands


Structural EngineerWoolgar Hunter

ContractorGBDM LTD (Display Design)

SpeciesSiberian Larch & English Oak

ClientShetland Amenity Trust

JoineryGBDM LTD (Display Design)