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John Muir Birth Place Visitor Centre, Dunbar

John Muir Birth Place Visitor Centre, Dunbar

The John Muir Birth Place Trust bought the house on Dunbar Street where John Muir, the famous conservationist and founder of the American National Park System, was born in 1838. Although he lived there for only two years the house has become something of a shrine for the environmental movement, in particular for American Tourists. After purchase by the Trust in the 1970s, it was completely gutted with a small exhibition on ground floor level, a rented flat at first floor level and at the top floor a recreation of what the inside might have been like at the time of Muir's birth.

Along with Campbell & Co, Exhibition Designers, we were appointed by the Trust in 2000 with radical proposals to remove all the building work which had been placed in the building in the 1970s and to exhibit the four walls of the house and its roof as the remaining historic fabric. In any event the requirement to put a new lift in the building would have made the 1970s plan of the building virtually unworkable and since the building was to be converted into a museum we wished it to have the best possible opportunity of communicating the message of John Muir in a contemporary way.

The design developed as a free-standing three storey steel and timber tower within the shell of the original house with the life of John Muir in Dunbar at ground floor level, his travels at first floor level and the message of John Muir today exhibited on the top floor. The existing staircase at the rear of the site was retained for use in the new design and a previous back yard was roofed for a conference/children's/meetings area.

The project hit enormous numbers of objections through massive misreporting in the press which purported that we were removing the original fabric of the house (exactly the opposite was the case). However, after an investigation by Nicholas Grove Raines Architects, for Historic Scotland,confirmed that we were, as stated all along, simply removing what had been put into the house in the 1970s, the sense of the project was widely understood and planning permission was achieved. Since the museum opened in August 2003 a record number of visitors has been through the doors and the reaction has been universally favourable.

Other Details
Architects Richard Murphy, Bill Black, Graeme Armet
Engineers Will Rudd Davidson
Quantity Surveyor Davis Langdon Everest
Planning Supervisor  Cundall Johnston & Partners
Exhibition Designers Campbell & Co
Contractor Thomas Johnstone
Construction Cost £400,000
Client The John Muir Trust
Press
  • 04 June 2009Charles' CheersEast Lothian Courier
  • 13 August 2003John Muir's Home To Open Doors After RevampEvening News
  • 6 June 2002Spirit Of Muir Will Live On In BirthplaceEdinburgh Evening News
  • February 2002Murphy WinsProject Scotland
  • 11-24 January 2002Muir The MerrierPrivate Eye
  • 5 October 2001Murphy Victory In Refit RowBuilding Design
15 Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1RW | Tel 0131 220 6125 | www.richardmurphyarchitects.com