Leith barge and Portrait Gallery win design award

The Vine Trust barge. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Vine Trust barge. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A CONVERTED former Ministry of Defence barge berthed at Leith Docks has been named alongside the London 2012 Olympic Stadium as winner of a top design and architecture prize.

The barge – headquarters of the Vine Trust charity, which runs healthcare projects in remote parts of the Third World – is one of 32 projects across the UK to receive a 2013 Civic Trust award.

The revamped Scottish National Portrait Gallery was another winner.

The Vine Trust acquired the barge, a former fuel supply vessel, in 2008 and brought it to Leith, where it was transformed into a swish headquarters for the charity, with an onboard teaching area, a cinema room, a multi-purpose meeting space, boardroom and offices.

In contrast with the 80,000-seater Olympic Stadium, which had a price tag of £486 million, the cost of converting the barge to its new purpose was kept to a bare minimum.

Architects from Archial produced designs for free, other companies and organisations provided sponsorship and many volunteers gave time and materials to help complete the project. The barge was officially opened by the Princess Royal in September 2011.

Calum Munro, expeditions co-ordinator for the Vine Trust, pictured below, said: “It’s fantastic. It’s great to be up there with all these other projects.

“One of the reasons we were keen to get the barge was that many people associate us with medical projects in the Amazon, where we provide care for over 100,000 patients through our two medical ships, and we are beginning work with another medical ship on Lake Victoria in Tanzania, so the barge helps build on that nautical theme.

“It’s a bit different. People are quite impressed with the facilities when they come on board. We have lots of school groups and youth groups coming to the barge and it’s a very flexible space.”

The Civic Trust awards scheme, established in 1959, recognises the best in architecture, design, planning, landscape and public art – but projects must also have made a positive
cultural, social or economic 
contribution.

The barge won the special award for community impact and engagement, which recognises a scheme that has demonstrates “how successful community engagement can help deliver the highest standards of design whilst meeting the needs of local people”.

The Portrait Gallery, which reopened in December 2011 after being closed for two-and-a-half years during a £17.6m refurbishment, pulled in almost 330,000 visitors in its first full year after the revamp, some 39 per cent more than in its final year prior to the upgrade.

The Civic Trust award panel said: “This is a sensitive refurbishment, restoration and modern adaption of a Grade A listed public art gallery and well-loved Edinburgh landmark.

“The galleries look crisp and consistent with how they would have been originally. The major architectural moves, remodelling the entrance and ground floor galleries, are expressly designed to attract more people in.

“The building now comfortably provides for the demands of contemporary society and can confidently look forward to the future.”

Julie Lawson, chief curator at the gallery, said: “We are delighted to receive this award and consider it a very positive response to the refurbishment.”