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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 focuses on an emblematic project due to open in 2025 as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary. This two-stage competition is open to both national and international integrated design teams, which include 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 emerging brief for competition finalists explains 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 will also be able 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. 

To enter the competition, teams will need to read the Search Statement, fill out the online form and upload documents detailing their company information, proposed team composition and relevant experience. No design is required at the first stage.

At the second stage at least five teams will be shortlisted; each will receive an honorarium of £30,000 for their submissions once the competition concludes with the selection of the winner.

Deadline for first-stage responses
14.00 BST
Wednesday 16 October 2019
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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 is 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 sits 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 is a two-stage process and is being run in accordance with EU procurement guidelines and the UK Public Contracts Regulations 2015. This competition has been advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

This competition is being managed on behalf of the National Railway Museum by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC).

Stage one – Expression of Interest

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

No design is required at the first stage. Integrated design teams of architects and structural, civil and service engineers who meet the Search Statement’s requirements are invited to submit an Expression of Interest detailing company information; details of the proposed team; and relevant experience. 

The deadline for this is: 14.00 BST Wednesday 16 October 2019.

Submissions for the first stage will be received electronically via the online form. Competitors should read and take note of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) associated with this.

A shortlist of at least five teams will be selected to participate in the second stage of the competition. All competitors will be contacted by the competition organiser MRC prior to the start of stage two.

Stage Two – Design Concept

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

A technical panel will review the entries and produce a report for the jury, who will conduct interviews and select a winner.

As part of a wide-ranging public engagement process, the National Railway Museum will hold an exhibition of the schemes submitted by finalist teams in York in February 2020.

Each shortlisted team that submits a compliant entry and attends the jury interviews will receive an honorarium of £30,000 at the conclusion of the competition. 

The winner announcement is expected in March 2020.

Competition Timeline

Stage One
Stage One LaunchTuesday 10 September 2019
Deadline for questions14.00 BST Wednesday 2 October 2019
Submission Deadline14.00 BST Wednesday 16 October 2019
Stage Two
Stage Two LaunchEarly-November 2019
Shortlist AnnouncedEarly-November 2019
Site visitMid-November 2019
Submission Deadline14.00 GMT Thursday 30 January 2020
InterviewsLate-February 2020
Winner announcedMid-March 2020


  • Search Statement
    PDF document, 10.9MB
  • Appendix A – National Railway Museum Vision 2025 Projects Summary
    PDF document, 41.9MB
  • Appendix B – Selection Questionnaire
    Word document, 94.2KB
  • Competition Conditions
    PDF document, 4.8MB
  • Appendices to the Competition Conditions
    ZIP archive, 41.4MB
  • Stage 1 Q&A Log Volume 1
    PDF document, 49.6KB



Competition Enquiries

Claire Organ
[email protected]​malcolmreading.​com
+ 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Competition Media Enquiries

Laurel Quinn
laurel.​[email protected]​malcolmreading.​com
+ 44 (0)20 7831 2998

National Railway Museum Enquiries

Simon Baylis
PR and Communications Manager
simon.​[email protected]​railwaymuseum.​org.​uk
+44 (0)1904 686299