St Fagans museum eschews parochialism and selects non-Welsh firms to develop site
The St Fagans site of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, a satellite village to Cardiff, is due for a facelift. Quite a large one in fact. This is because the National Museum is in the process of shifting its archaeological material to this site, expanding the natural history and artistic endeavours of the museum in the city’s civic centre. Personally I think that this is a dreadful idea, fuzzing the raison d’etre of experimental archaeology at St Fagans while relegating the material human past to an extraurban setting, but that’s by-the-by. Current controversy is not over this reconfiguration of the cultural landscape, but over the fact that there were no Welsh firms selected to work on St Fagans museum.
Sure, favouring Welsh architectural firms would have helped to keep the cash in the local economy. But no doubt there will be an uplift for the local construction labour pool in any case once building starts, which will serve to up employment of workers in the area. I think rather that the backlash is motivated by a sort of wounded pride: “what’s wrong with our own boys, eh?” This is misguided and parochial. Of course, a local designer would have strengthened claims for the heritage and history of the site. But few of the heritage buildings currently in situ were originally built there. Excluding the manor house, most have been constructed or moved from other places in and around Wales, and as it stands St Fagans is a weird mix of conserved heritage and an immigration of place(s): it creates the sense of an authentic falseness. So there would be nothing incongruous about sourcing an outsider to design for the site, as it is already a predominantly modern layout and its heritages belong to other locales not its own.
It’s positive that Amgueddfa Cymru reached its tender out as far as it has. If the repositioning of St Fagans as the hub of Welsh archaeology and the human past is to be successful it is essential that they demonstrate national (i.e. UK) ambitions at the very least. For this they need to think beyond narrow-minded restrictions and seek the best tenders for their money on a national or international level, even if doing so incurs the ire of knee-jerk nationalists and isolationists. To do otherwise would be to harm Wales’ cultural development.