Paisley: The Secret Collection


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Collective Architecture

Architect or lead designer:

Ewan Imrie, Project Architect, Collective Architecture

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Collective Architecture

Project Description

The purpose of this project is to create a new Accessible Museum Store for the collections of Renfrewshire Council Arts and Museums service. The store concept is part of a recent important nationwide shift in how public collections are being made more accessible to the public. With only a very small proportion of a collection being on public display at any one time, due to limited space within museums and art galleries, these ‘Accessible Stores’ allow behind-the-scenes access to individuals or groups to view the collections within their storage environment.

Collective Architecture worked closely with Renfrewshire Council to deliver this Accessible Museum Store. The state-of-the-art facility is uniquely set within an existing town centre property (a former Littlewoods department store) thus helping to revitalize the ailing High Street while providing excellent access with its location at the very centre of the town and a major train station within 5 minutes walk.

This refurbishment houses collections which include a vast archive of textiles, yarns and looms relating to the proud weaving history, extensive contemporary ceramics, natural history specimens, fine art, social history items and local archives in climate-controlled conditions. The building layout and accommodation facilitates visits for school groups, interested parties and researchers, thus opening up the full collection to the wider public. This enables a more complex and meaningful service for the public and curators alike, not previously possible under the old arrangements.

The design concept plays on the excitement a visitor will feel when entering the store via a narrow yellow entrance, descending into the deep, dark foyer via the yellow staircase. The scale of the stores is dramatically revealed when entering the exaggerated long spine corridor revealing the surprising depth of the facility. The corridor is animated by glazed screens providing enticing views into the stores. A layer of graphics (developed in collaboration with ISO Design and artist Toby Paterson) further emphasizes the scale and industrial nature of the space.

Due to the limited 2100 sq. m footprint of the existing building, Collective Architecture was initially tasked with a full survey and volumetric assessment of the existing collection. Options were developed to demonstrate that the proposed space could accommodate the entire collection with at least 10% future expansion of the collection. A detailed storage design was subsequently developed to allow the storage-racking package to be put out to tender as a design and build package. All the stores have individual work stations to allow curators to work closely with each collection.

Supporting Statement

The project has been nominated for the strategic vision shown by the client is using cultural projects to breathe new life into the town centre and for the skill shown by the design team in transforming an unpromising, featureless, largely underground site into an exciting and attractive space to visit and work within.

The choice for the site was in response to a strategy developed by Renfrewshire Council to rejuvenate the town by focussing on the quality of the existing historic architectural assets and the High Street area that links them and to bring culture and creativity back to Paisley, breathing new life into its historic town centre.

The “Paisley Town Centre Asset Strategy aims to tell the story of Paisley’s proud past to visitors from across the world.” (Paisley The Untold Story, Paisley Town Centre Asset Strategy & Action Plan, 2014). The PTCAS, Appendix 2, Heritage Asset Register includes the action point “potential for ...collections held in storage to be located centrally within the Town Centre”.

In response to the requirements of the PTCHAS, re-use of the currently vacant lower ground floor property at 7-11 High Street was chosen so as to enhance town centre attractions and provide an additional focal location for events and cultural activity. This project forms a central part not only to the telling of the story of Paisley through making the Council’s Museums collections accessible in a central, town centre location but is also integral to the development of the signature project, which is the redevelopment of the existing museum.

Collective Architecture employed great vision in seeing the potential for this project to be greater and more dynamic than may have initially seemed possible from the brief and the site. The site is largely underground with very little access to daylight and a very small frontage on the High Street. Collective Architecture chose to emphasize these qualities and make it an exciting adventure for a visitor as they descend down into the depths of a dark, mysterious store. The oddness of the environment is heightened by some of the design moves. A very narrow bright yellow entrance leads to a yellow stair descending to a large grey subterranean gathering space. Once assembled, visitors are led into to the main ‘gallery’ corridor. This is revealed as a surprisingly long ‘infinity’ corridor emphasized with repetitive lighting and oversized graphics. The fair-faced concrete block walls have been aligned with the existing terrazzo floor tiles to make the visitor wonder what is new and what is old. The corridor has large glazed screens that provide tantalizing views into the stores and wonders they contain.

Collective Architecture is proud to have worked on this unique project with a client who has sought to exceed expectations for this awkward basement space by supporting innovative design solutions, which have lifted the museum collection from a standard store to a hidden gem on Paisley High Street.