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2 February 2023

Built of the earth from which it rises and immersing people in the landscape around them, a proposed new cultural centre with a focus on mental health and wellbeing has been revealed for the South of Scotland. The winning conceptual design for The Crichton Project – a team led by O’ConnellBrown Architects with White Arkitekter and Ekkist – has been unveiled by RIAS Consultancy, which organised the design competition on behalf of The Crichton Trust.

The team led by O’DonnellBrown Architects overcame stiff competition from 69 teams to win the competition and take their design concept forward. The winning conceptual design will now be developed further in partnership with The Crichton Trust, with local people and organisations also encouraged to share their ideas on how the project can move towards realisation. When built, the new £15 million building will transform cultural provision in Dumfries and Galloway, while complementing the extraordinary range of facilities and organisations at The Crichton.

The new building, on the site of the Merrick former hospital laundry building, will contain exhibition and archive facilities to increase access to the internationally significant Crichton Archive, research and support facilities and The Crichton Heritage Centre: enhancing people’s understanding of The Crichton’s 180 year heritage and innovation in the provision of mental health care and arts and health. The building will also bring together a new visual arts and exhibition space, an intergenerational academic study space and resource centre, and a land art archives and research centre.

O’DonnellBrown’s winning design concept looks to repurpose and enhance the existing Merrick building to provide the opportunity to strengthen The Crichton’s legacy as a place where nature and landscape have historically been harnessed to support well-being. Central to the team’s concept is the connection of people to place: their proposal hopes to place nature and well-being at the heart of the building that, being built from and into the earth, is in and of its landscape. The team’s concept sees natural materials sitting alongside a series of gardens and courtyards to allow the public to meander from building to space, while always framing views of nature.

Alongside The Crichton Project, The Crichton Trust is also seeking planning approval for plans to accommodate SHAX – an independent charity that currently occupies the Merrick building – in new purpose-built facilities to enable them to continue their valuable work at The Crichton.

Gwilym Gibbons, chief executive of The Crichton Trust said:

“We were overwhelmed by the number and quality of competition entries received and I would like to thank everyone who submitted an entry and to congratulate O’DonnellBrown Architects and their partners for their winning design concept. I would also like to thank our judging panel and RIAS Consultancy for their professional approach to delivering and judging the competition and of course the UK Government for funding the competition through the UK Community Renewal Fund. We now look forward to working with the winning team and engaging with stakeholders and the local community to shape the final design and in attracting investment from potential funders, donors and sponsors for this important and iconic new landmark at The Crichton.”

Gwilym added: “At the same time as running the competition we have been working closely with colleagues at SHAX, the homeless support charity and the current occupant of the Merrick building, to work towards a new and improved purpose-built home for them on site at The Crichton too.”

Tamsie Thomson, chief executive of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland said:

“We are delighted with the outcome of the design competition for The Crichton Project. When we launched the competition, we described it as a step-change for RIAS Consultancy as we enabled participation by practices of all shapes and sizes, with a deliberate focus on collaboration. Having overcome competition from every shade of the architectural spectrum, the team led by O’DonnellBrown have produced a conceptual design that does justice to The Crichton Trust’s brief and progressive approach, and will hopefully soon move forward to deliver something extraordinary for the people of the South of Scotland.”

Michael Dougall, director at O’DonnellBrown said:

“We are delighted that The Crichton Trust have selected our team to progress designs for The Crichton Project. The structure of the competition, set by the RIAS, provided the opportunity for a truly collaborative design process. Working alongside White Arkiteker, Ekkist and the wider consultant team we enjoyed how the range of expertise and experience across the team directly influenced and shaped our design response. We are looking forward to widening this collaboration with the involvement of The Crichton Trust and the people who work, visit, and study within the inspiring context of The Crichton.”


With thanks to RIAS Consultancy for managing the design competition on behalf of The Crichton Trust, the jury, the shortlisted teams and the UK Government Community Renewal Fund.

The Jury:

  • David Bickle – partner and creative director, Hawkins\Brown
  • Dr Janet Brennan – trustee, The Crichton Trust
  • Gwilym Gibbons – chief executive, The Crichton Trust
  • Dame Barbara Kelly – patron, Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival and former chair, Architects Registration Board
  • Francesca Perry – editor and writer

The Shortlisted Teams:

  • Caruso St John with Loader Monteith Architects
  • Hoskins Architects
  • MUMA
  • O’ConnellBrown Architects with White Arkitekter and Ekkist
  • Sutherland Hussey Harris with Graeme Massie Architects and ScottWhitbyStudio



The winning design teamO’Donnell Brown Architects with White Arkitekter and Ekkist – is working alongside a wider project team consisting of ZM Architecture (heritage and conservation specialists), McLeod + Aitken (quantity surveyor), Civic Engineers (civil and structural engineer), Harley Haddow (M&E), Land Use Consultants (landscape architects), Carbon Futures (environmental consultant).

This project was funded by theUK Community Renewal Fund. This UK Government programme for 2021/22, aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches to prepare for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  It invests in skills, community and place, local business, and supporting people into employment.   For more information, visit

#TheCrichton #UKCommunityRenewalFund 

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