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National Railway Museum Central Hall Design Competition


Located in the heart of York, one of the world’s most important railway cities, the National Railway Museum is set for a transformation. The museum is poised to become the cultural anchor for York Central, one of the largest city centre brownfield regeneration projects in the UK, and indeed Europe.

The re-routing of a major road that currently bisects the museum’s formerly industrial site and the regenerative uplift of the wider redevelopment means the museum can now create a revitalised physical presence, reflecting its status as a national cultural institution. Strategically, it aims to become the World’s Railway Museum’ – attracting new audiences interested in innovative technology, engineering and science – as well as better serving existing and emerging communities.

Accordingly, the National Railway Museum Central Hall Design Competition focused on an emblematic project due to open in 2025 as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary. This two-stage competition was open to both national and international integrated design teams, including architects and structural, civil and services engineers.

The new centrepiece building will create outstanding welcome, arrival and gallery spaces as well as improve the site’s connectivity and legibility. Circa 4,500 sqm, it will combine a new entrance experience with a spectacular 1,000 sqm gallery and public-facing spaces for orientation and reception. These spaces will showcase future acquisitions and innovative technology, as well as introducing the museum’s world-class collection.

The museum’s intention is that the Central Hall, which has a construction value of £16.5 million, will be of the highest architectural quality, embodying a confident national museum aesthetic (rather than station architecture). As the brief for competition finalists explained in the Search Statement, this should use warm, natural materials to reference the existing site and historic buildings and show an appreciation of scale appropriate to the context.

Shortlisted teams were also asked to propose enhancements to some of the fabric, infrastructure and organisation of the existing adjoining buildings; this secondary aspect of the project having an associated construction budget of no more than £10 million. Depending on the post-competition concept design, a proportion of these works may be delivered by the appointed team for this project. 

At the first stage, design teams were required to read the Search Statement, fill out the online form and upload documents detailing their company information, proposed team composition and relevant experience.

The first stage of the competition attracted Expressions of Interest from 76 teams comprising 241 individual firms.

From these submissions, five teams were shortlisted in November 2019 and asked to create design concepts for the new Central Hall. These design concepts can be viewed here and at a public exhibition held at the National Railway Museum from 13 February – 29 March 2020

Members of the public were invited to share their views on the five proposals.

The Jury met in February 2020 to interview the finalists and selected the team led by Feilden Fowles as the winner of the competition.


Courtesy of the National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum has long been regarded as a national treasure and is ranked amongst the most popular attractions in the UK, welcoming more than 750,000 visitors each year.

The museum is currently creating a dynamic new identity for itself – from a place associated with the past, to one which uses its collections to explore the contemporary and future power of science, technology and engineering. 

In its strategic plan, the National Railway Museum’s Vision 2025, the transformed museum will juxtapose the vivid beginnings of railway history with the cutting-edge innovations shaping our world today. By celebrating the past, present and future of railways and engineering, the National Railway Museum aims to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation of engineers, innovators and thinkers.

In addition, as the cultural anchor of one of the largest city centre developments in the UK and Europe, the National Railway Museum will take a more holistic view of the purpose of a museum and explore how it can become a social and cultural resource for the city, meeting the needs of its audiences – local, national and international. The National Railway Museum in 2025 will be a must-see destination, a world-class institution and an essential part of its community.

The project at the heart of this competition, the Central Hall, will not only present a spectacular new 1,000 sqm gallery and public-facing spaces for orientation and reception, it will also be the catalyst that connects, rationalises and integrates the current museum estate. 

There are currently two primary exhibition spaces at the museum, both rich in rail history: the Grade II Listed Station Hall, originally the Goods Station where rail vehicles were loaded and unloaded, and the Great Hall, originally part of the York North Engine Sheds, where workers prepared giant steam locomotives to pull mainline trains.

These will remain as the primary spaces exhibiting rail vehicles – but the new centrepiece building will showcase future acquisitions and innovative technology as well as explore all aspects of the railway’s evolution.


The National Railway Museum’s new Central Hall needs to:

  • Be of outstanding architectural quality – the centrepiece of the museum’s wider strategic investment, Vision 2025 – and give the museum a revitalised physical presence worthy of a national cultural institution
  • Present a compelling and appealing new welcome and arrival space for the National Railway Museum to position the museum as the cultural anchor for the wider York Central regeneration project
  • Be the catalyst that connects, rationalises and integrates the existing museum estate
  • Present a spectacular new exhibition gallery with the aim of increasing visitor numbers and encouraging return visits (note: exhibition design was not in scope)
  • Embody a national museum aesthetic (rather than railway station architecture) using warm, natural materials to reference the existing site and historic buildings and showing a sense of scale that is appropriate to agreed development parameters
  • Serve the needs of existing and new communities – offer a safe space to gather, learn, play and relax; practically, integrate passer-by and local pedestrian access through the site during opening hours
  • Be open for all’ – exceeding expectations and minimum standards of access and inclusion
  • Demonstrate a holistic approach to sustainability, from design and construction through to operations and use, to reduce operating costs by improving the museum’s operational efficiency
  • Increase income generation and visitor dwell-time through improved retail, catering and event facilities
  • Take advantage of the opportunities presented by the surrounding York Central development

The Site

© Ravage Productions / MRC

The National Railway Museum is located at the centre of York, one of the UK’s most historic cities, and sits next to the mainline station. The site housed goods yards and depots in the 19th century and remnants of railway heritage and infrastructure predominate today. 

The museum’s site is split by a major road, Leeman Road, and is made up, essentially, of two separate main buildings: the Grade II Listed Station Hall on the southern site and the much altered and extended Great Hall on the northern island. 

Currently, navigation across the two sites is challenging. There is an underpass that connects the two halves of the museum, but this provides neither a happy visitor experience nor equal accessibility.

However, York Central – a new 45-hectare redevelopment – will transform the disused railway estate and infrastructure that surrounds the museum. This has outline planning consent, including an envelope for the new Central Hall building.

York Central, supported by the UK government and rail industry, will create a series of new city centre residential and business neighbourhoods and is expected to play a pivotal role in the city’s economic growth and transformation, bringing wider regional benefits and adding an overall £1.16 billion boost to the economy.

Crucially for the museum, this wider city initiative provides the opportunity to integrate its estate. The new Central Hall, which will sit at the junction of the estate between Great and Station Halls, is to provide a seamlessly connected and integrated museum as Leeman Road is re-routed around the west and south of the York Central development. 

Externally, York Central provides the opportunity to bring together the museum’s public realm for the first time, allowing for an integrated and landscaped setting that can support museum operations and programming to the rear of the site as well as provide a new forecourt and civic realm to the front, Museum Square’. Please note, however, this element of the York Central masterplan vision sat outside of the scope of this competition.

York is considered by many to be the birthplace of rail technology – the railway arrived in 1839 and dramatically revived the city’s fortunes. George Hudson, a draper from York, invested in the North Midland Railway and persuaded George Stephenson to build his railway line of Newcastle to London through York, instead of going straight to Leeds. Then, in its infancy, the railway was just 15 miles long and served by a makeshift wooden station. But by 1877, York Station had relocated to its current location and become the largest railway station in the UK.

Today, York is a thriving city with a population of over 200,000 and flourishing tourism, retail and restaurant sectors. Key industries include the financial and professional services, and creative and technology businesses, notably including Hiscox, Nestle and Aviva. The York economy is worth approximately £4.9 billion – supporting roughly 8,610 businesses and 114,000 jobs.

Known for its charming medieval street patterns, as well as its popular university, York continues its strong links with the rail industry. The city is home to major offices and headquarters for Network Rail, Northern Rail and LNER.

For more detail, please consult the Search Statement.


Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

The National Railway Museum Central Hall Design Competition was a two-stage process, run in accordance with EU procurement guidelines and the UK Public Contracts Regulations 2015. This competition was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

The competition was managed on behalf of the National Railway Museum by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC).

Stage one – Expression of Interest

An open call for participation which was aimed at attracting the very best design talent and was open to international as well as national teams. 

No design was required at the first stage. Integrated design teams of architects and structural, civil and service engineers who met the Search Statement’s requirements were invited to submit an Expression of Interest detailing company information; details of the proposed team; and relevant experience. The deadline for submissions was 14.00 BST Wednesday 16 October 2019.

In November 2019, a shortlist of five teams was selected to participate in the second stage of the competition.

Stage Two – Design Concept

Shortlisted teams were provided with detailed briefing information and invited to visit York for a site tour and seminar. Internationally-based competitors were required to propose a UK-based executive architect as part of their team at stage two.

The five teams were asked to produce design concepts, available to view in an online gallery, and at a free public exhibition held at the National Railway Museum from 13 February – 29 March 2020.

Members of the public were invited to share their views on the five proposals.

A technical panel reviewed the entries and produced a report for the competition Jury, who in February 2020 conducted interviews of the finalists. The team led by Feilden Fowles was selected as the winner.

The Jury was chaired by Dame Mary Archer DBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Science Museum Group, and included Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive, Science Museum Group; Gitta Gschwendtner, Director, Gitta Gschwendtner Design Consultancy; Zoe Laughlin, Director, Institute of Making; Karen Livingstone, Director of Masterplan and Estate, Science Museum Group; Judith McNicol, Director, National Railway Museum; Michael Squire, Senior Partner, Squire and Partners; and Malcolm Reading, Competition Director.

Each shortlisted team that submitted a compliant entry received an honorarium of £30,000 at the conclusion of the competition.

Finalists’ Gallery

The National Railway Museum’s new Central Hall will inhabit the space between the museum’s two main exhibition halls, integrating the museum estate for the first time in its history and creating an appealing arrival experience. The new building will also include a spectacular 1,000 sqm gallery intended to showcase future acquisitions and introduce the museum’s world-class collection.

The first stage of the competition was entered by 76 teams from 19 countries, and a shortlist of five teams was selected by a panel chaired by Dame Mary Archer DBE, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Science Museum Group. 

The finalist teams were asked to develop design concepts for the new Central Hall, which can be found below, along with a short description by each team.

The five proposals were available to view at a free public exhibition held at the National Railway Museum from 13 February – 29 March 2020.

In February 2020, the Jury interviewed the finalists and selected the team led by Feilden Fowles as the winner.


  • Dame Mary Archer DBE

    Dame Mary Archer DBE

    Jury Chair , Chair of Board of Trustees, Science Museum Group

    Dame Mary Archer has chaired the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group since 2015, and earlier served as a Group trustee (1990–2000). She is a chemist by profession and has taught the subject at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Imperial College London, where her scientific research interests centred on sustainable energy production and solar energy conversion. She is a Companion of the Energy Institute and was awarded the Institute’s Melchett Medal in 2002 and the Eva Philbin Award of the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland in 2007.

    Dame Mary has had a long association with the NHS, and sat on the board of Cambridge University Hospitals, 1993–2012, chairing it from 2002 to 2012. In 2012, she was appointed DBE for services to the NHS. She is an Honorary Liveryman of the Fuellers’ Company and an Honorary Member of the Salters’ Company, and holds honorary DSc degrees from the Universities of Hertfordshire and Bradford and Imperial College London.

  • Sir Ian Blatchford

    Sir Ian Blatchford

    Director and Chief Executive, Science Museum Group

    Sir Ian Blatchford was appointed Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group from 1 November 2010 and combined this with the role of Director of the Science Museum from December 2010.

    Previously Sir Ian was Deputy Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, after having joined as Director of Finance & Resources. Previous to that he was Director of Finance at the Royal Academy of Arts.

    He read law at Mansfield College, Oxford and holds an MA in Renaissance Studies from Birkbeck College, University of London. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

    Sir Ian is Chairman of the National Museum Director’s Council. He was Chairman of the Governors of De Montfort University from 2011 – 2018. He was awarded the Pushkin Medal in 2015 and was awarded a Knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to Cultural Education.

  • Gitta Gschwendtner

    Gitta Gschwendtner

    Director, Gitta Gschwendtner Design Consultancy

    Born in Germany, Gitta Gschwendtner moved to London in the early nineties to study design at Central Saint Martin’s College, Kingston University and the Royal College of Art. Following graduation from the RCA Furniture MA in 1998, she set up her independent design studio specialising in design for buildings, installations, exhibitions and furniture.

    Gitta Gschwendtner’s studio focuses on conceptually rigorous, visually intriguing, functional design across the disciplines of architecture, art and design. The studio has realised innovative projects for clients such as the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Wellcome Trust, the British Council, the British Museum, the Southbank Centre, Guy’s Hospital and the National Trust.

  • Zoe Laughlin

    Zoe Laughlin

    Director, Institute of Making

    Zoe Laughlin is a co-founder and Director of the Institute of Making. She holds an MA from Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design and obtained a PhD in Materials within the Division of Engineering, King's College London. Working at the interface of the science, art, craft and design of materials, outputs range from formal experiments with matter, to materials consultancy and large-scale public exhibitions and events with partners including Tate Modern, the Hayward Gallery and the V&A. Her work has been shown in London’s Science Museum and is included in the new permanent collection of the Design Museum. Along side this, Zoe also presents television programmes for the BBC, is a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet and a can often be found pushing the health and safety limits on ITV’s This Morning.

  • Karen Livingstone

    Karen Livingstone

    Director of Masterplan and Estate, Science Museum Group

    Karen Livingstone joined the Science Museum Group in 2011 as its first Director of Masterplan and Estate, responsible for creating an ambitious Masterplan for each of the five museums in the Group. She oversees a large portfolio of architecture and design led projects and the transformation of the largest museum estate in the UK, while also playing an influential role in major city Masterplan developments such as York Central.

    She is an experienced and passionate client of architecture and design in museums. The architects she has commissioned at the Science Museum Group to date include Zaha Hadid Architects, MuF Art/Architecture, HAT Projects, Carmody Groarke, Wilkinson Eyre, Mary Duggan Architects and Coffey Architects.

    Karen began her career as a curator, at Aberdeen Art Gallery and then the Victoria and Albert Museum. She became Head of Projects at the V&A, where she built up a track record of directing and delivering multiple award-winning capital projects.

  • Judith McNicol

    Judith McNicol

    Director, National Railway Museum

    Judith McNicol became the Director of the National Railway Museum in 2017, with a remit to deliver the museum’s ambitious redevelopment, including Locomotion in County Durham. Judith also sits on the Strategic Board of York Central, the city centre regeneration that unlocks the opportunity for Central Hall.

    Judith’s career is rooted in engineering, starting a machine tool company in her 20s. This passion for engineering drives her to inspire young people to discover the possibilities in design, invention and innovation. She has a keen interest in how people respond to spaces, their design and function.

    Judith has lived in York for almost 20 years, and is committed to its continual evolution as a city with the highest architectural quality developments for its people and visitors.

  • Michael Squire

    Michael Squire

    Senior Partner, Squire and Partners

    Son of architect Raglan Squire and grandson of poet Sir John Squire – founder of the Architecture Club – Michael studied architecture at St John’s College, Cambridge, under the tutelage of Sir Leslie Martin and Sir Colin St John Wilson. Following a period working with his father on projects in Jakarta and Bahrain, Michael founded the current practice in 1976.

    Under his direction, Squire and Partners has won a significant number of design awards, and established a reputation for contemporary crafted developments within sensitive urban locations. Michael has been responsible for the negotiation of numerous planning consents in high profile locations such as Southbank Place, Chelsea Barracks and One Tower Bridge.

    Recognised for his design expertise, Michael has been a regular Jury Chair for the RIBA Awards and is a member of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s Architecture Appraisal Panel. An active member of The Architecture Club, he has contributed to industry events at the RIBA, New London Architecture and Open City.

    Today Michael is one of four partners leading the practice, his 40 years of experience being invaluable in underpinning conceptual design and planning within the office.

  • Malcolm Reading RIBA, (Hon) FRGS, FRSA

    Malcolm Reading RIBA, (Hon) FRGS, FRSA

    Jury Adviser , Chairman, Malcolm Reading Consultants

    The competition is being managed by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC). An advocate for design excellence, Malcolm has created a unique and trusted competitions service with a dedicated global following among architects and designers. MRC’s clients include top tier cultural and educational and philanthropic organisations in places as diverse as the USA, India, Australia, Lithuania, Ireland, Taiwan, the Gulf and, of course, the UK.

    Over the past nine years MRC has run competitions for high-level projects with an estimated capital worth of circa three billion pounds.

    Trained as an architect, Malcolm is widely recognised within the profession. He has set new standards in procurement and is known for his loyalty to demanding projects.

    Malcolm sits on the Sovereign Grant Audit Committee. He was on the board of Historic Royal Palaces for an unprecedented three terms (2005–2014) and remains chairman of the UNESCO Tower of London World Heritage Site Consultative Committee.

    Photo: Vibeke Dahl



Competition Enquiries

Claire Organ
+ 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Competition Media Enquiries

Laurel Quinn
+ 44 (0)20 7831 2998

National Railway Museum Enquiries

Simon Baylis
PR and Communications Manager
+44 (0)1904 686299