Exhaust fumes and dust from a busy city centre street have lead art gallery bosses to commission a pioneering air filtering system to protect priceless masterpieces.
Diesel and sulphur particles stick to paintings, and staff at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh have long refrained from opening windows, fearing that pollution from bustling Queen Street would damage the artworks.
Now, as part of a radical £17 million overhaul of the landmark Victorian Gothic building, a new filtering and air conditioning system will be installed on the roof.
In an innovative design, the plans will use the original Victorian ducts, in place from when the gallery was first designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in the 1880s.
Yesterday, David Page, the architect overseeing the refurbishment, also revealed how the gallery could be transformed, with an Italian-style grand loggia – or vaulted gallery – running along the entire front of the building.
Calling the gallery a 'dearly loved friend,' Mr Page outlined simple but startling changes.
The gallery already boasts a striking pillared hall and mezzanine, with glittering mosaics and statues.
Among the most famous historical portraits are of Mary, Queen of Scots, Allan Ramsay's portrait of the philosopher David Hume, Alexander Nasmyth's portrait of Robert Burns and Sir Henry Raeburn's Sir Walter Scott.
But the exhibition rooms are shabby and outdated, others are closed off for storage, lighting is poor and there are inadequate toilets and a single tiny lift.
The grand hall would have clutter such as reception desks removed, and new lighting installed to spotlight the faces on the walls, said Mr Page, of Page/Park architects.
'There is the potential to do something quite remarkable,' he said yesterday. 'What we wanted to do was get rid of all the tat.'
The ground floor will be redesigned, with a relocated shop, restaurant, introductory gallery and children's education rooms.
All eight of the arched front windows could be linked in a single long space, inviting visitors in from the street. This would lead to the historic picture galleries upstairs 'like an Edinburgh drawing room', Mr Page said.
After years of delays, the portrait gallery won a major lottery grant and matching funds from the Scottish Government of more than £10 million. It will raise the rest of the cash for works from 2009-11.
The building stands to lose the ground-floor gallery for big temporary exhibitions, as the shop and restaurant will move into this space.
Bigger and more high-profile shows will increasingly go to the Royal Scottish Academy building on the Mound.
Text by News.scotsman.com