The doors of a long-since mothballed museum could reopen – as Aberdeen University looks to bring more of Marischal College back into use.
Talks are understood to be underway between the ancient institution and the city council on the future of Marischal East.
Plans for the iconic building could include a natural history museum – bringing back into public view the treasure troves still housed on site.
Until 2008, Marischal College was open to the public as a museum, but this was closed as the university leased the historic site to Aberdeen City Council for use as a new corporate headquarters.
And now, with the council setting sights on a £150 million redevelopment of the adjacent Queen Street area, the university is considering how to make the most of the A-listed building.
As the local authority gathers land to enable the grand redesign, police too have moved their operations to Marischal College as the wrecking ball looms for their Queen Street station.
Marischal Museum gave public access to Aberdeen University’s anthropological collections
Designed by famed Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson, the modern college was first built in the 1830s.
But 60 years later, A. Marshall Mackenzie added much of the celebrated gothic frontage and spires – making it the world’s second largest granite building.
For years, students, researchers, archivists, members of the public and throngs of north-east school children took in the various anthropological exhibits housed there.
Marischal East is currently home to artists at the Anatomy Rooms and is used for dance studios as well.
But Councillor Marie Boulton, who leads work on the city centre masterplan, has revealed there is a hunger for public access to Marischal Museum once more.
“We are working really closely with the Aberdeen University, I would love to see that museum take some sort of shape,” she told us.
“The council is in discussions with them to see how we can help form something at the back of Marischal College so that whole corner can really come to life.
“My personal view, which I think the university shares, is some kind of natural history museum, given the collection they have.
“We would like to look at doing something as it would tie in really nicely with what we have in the city as an offering.”
Already under the far-reaching city centre masterplan, Aberdeen Art Gallery has been given a £34.7m facelift, while a £3.8m refurbishment of Provost Skene’s House, housing a celebration of famous north-east faces, is soon to be unveiled to the public.
It is hoped Aberdeen University reopening its huge anthropological archives would complement other historical collections at the maritime and Tollbooth museums.
Alongside Marischal Museum, council masterplanners believe the Lemon Tree, Anatomy Rooms and Aberdeen Art Centre could form a ‘cultural quarter’ amid the residential development in Queen Street.
Mrs Boulton added: “You have to identify the gaps and knowing the collection they have it would be an amazing step to work with them and other partners to deliver something quite exciting there.
“But as with all of these city centre masterplan ideas, it will come down to finding funding for it.”
Aberdeen University: Marischal East survey is ‘very much a scoping exercise’
It is understood that Aberdeen University is looking to make much more of the space than was previously opened to the public however, which only used a small part of the building.
Bosses are currently running an internal consultation, open to ideas from staff, current students and alumni, looking for fresh and creative ideas for Marischal East.
However, they are clear that work is in the very early stages – with the question of how the likely multi-million-pound bill would be covered.
A university spokeswoman said: “It has been recognised for a number of years that bringing this important part of Marischal back into use would be beneficial for both the university and the wider community.
“However, as a heritage building, further significant investment is required to revitalise and regenerate this important space.
“As a first step in this process, we have launched a call to our community for creative ideas to help us shape a new vision for Marischal East.
“The suggestions submitted will then be closely considered by our Marischal East Task and Finish Group and, if approved by the university, will be part of a wider major fundraising campaign to be launched by the university.
“At this stage though, this is very much a scoping exercise.”
Financial strain of reopening likely to be placed upon the university
SNP group leader on the council, Alex Nicoll, an alumni of the university himself, said bringing more of Marischal College back into use would be welcome – but stopped short of backing any council cash being put up to pay for it.
He said: “It’s welcome that the University of Aberdeen is looking at how to bring this part of Marischal College back into use. I hope the council can support them to find funding for that work.
“Over the centuries the University of Aberdeen has attracted some of the greatest minds across the globe to study and teach in our city, not least the winners of five Nobel prizes.
“It has a proud history, which I don’t feel is showcased quite as much as it deserves, and that should inspire future generations to help shape not just our own city but the world.
“With the university continuing from strength to strength today, I’m particularly interested to see what sort of ideas are proposed by the university’s students, staff and alumni. I’m sure we will see a wealth of ideas of how the university can invest in this space.”