The Fight For The Castle Visitor Experience at Edinburgh Castle

This project diary records the processes involved in the design and delivery of the Fight For The Castle visitor experience at Edinburgh Castle. It is hoped that it demonstrates Qualia's specific expertise in offering client-focused innovation, inclusiveness and an all-important attention to detail. 


Qualia was invited by Historic Environment Scotland to tender for the design of the new Fight for the Castle visitor experience at Edinburgh Castle in September 2017. The HES project team planned to use the late-Victorian Argyle Tower, at the top of the popular 70-step Lang Stair as the venue. 

The Venue and Tender Brief

The location of the new experience, above the castle's historic portcullis gate, was perfect in terms of connecting the gallery content to the castle's history. The visitor experience was to focus on the transformation of the castle from a royal palace to the 'most besieged castle in Britain' during the medieval period.


The Winning Tender Response

Working with the architecture of the space, Qualia's initial response was to make the most of its exceptional height and inherent theatrical qualities. The proposal included famous characters from the castle's past projected onto wall surfaces and screens. Ambient music, noises, moving captions and flashes of light were proposed to add to the sense of turbulence throughout the castle's history.

Historic Environment Scotland were very impressed with the concept and appointed Qualia as lead design consultant in October 2017. The decision was based on Qualia's ability to produce an experience that told the story of the castle in ways that would be accessible and meaningful for a broad visitor profile.

Concept Design and Development

Qualia developed the initial design language, visual approach and space plans for the experience. 

The following sketch drawings, produced in close collaboration with the HES project team, helped to define exhibit objectives, key messages and interpretive media within a unified visual theme. 

As the concept developed, a large-scale sculptural trebuchet installation was proposed. The project team agreed that this would create a striking visual relationship between the exhibition installations and the historic architecture of the existing space.

The above concept was very well received by the client team. With this milestone approval completed it was possible to tender some elements for production. These included lighting design and audiovisual design.

Scheme Design

This stage of development included drawn plans, elevations, sections and materials specifications.  Additional sketches, theme boards, material samples and graphic style options were also produced and adapted as visual and aesthetic refinements were made throughout the collaborative process. 

Detailed Design

Detailed design development coincided with the latter stages of scheme design and included annotated plans, elevations, sections and materials specifications for formal issue to specialist contractors. 

Design Tender Packages

At this point it was possible to tender and the main fit out works, including the manufacture of the large sculptural trebuchet. Qualia produced several iterations and refinements in order to ensure the tendering contractors were able to offer accurate costings and clear method statements. 

The drawings for the trebuchet included hand drawn details, computer models and CAD layouts.

Production Design

The gallery includes significant objects from the castle's  archaeological collection. The following drawings were among those issued to the bespoke case manufacturer and mount maker as production information. 

Off Site and On Site Production Works

At the point where production commences in earnest, the amount of contractors involved on site within a small time frame can be quite daunting. The following photographs record the first phase of works carried out to install the timeline and sculptural trebuchet, together with electronic hardware and audiovisual equipment. 

Work off site was carried out to exceptional levels of accuracy in order that everything fitted on site. The following images show how Qualia's drawings informed the production of bespoke sculptural metalwork. 

The Completed Visitor Experience

Opened to the public 2019.

The £335,000 'Fight for the Castle' exhibition tells the story of how the Castle was held under siege many times between 1286 - 1356, making it the 'most besieged in Britain'. 

A large-scale sculptural trebuchet installation is counter-played with projected images and animations from every direction. The theatrical audiovisual experiences are enhanced by the use of real historical objects set within cases that integrate with a simple yet highly informative pictorial timeline. 

The whole experience is designed for a multinational audience and creates a strong impression while remaining rich in content and historical value.

The Historic Environment Scotland team of content and interpretation specialists were inspirational to work with. This made the design process exceptionally rewarding. Quality and procurement was managed by HES internally in order that the final fit-out and build of the project remained true to the vision of Qualia and the HES interpretation team. 

See Historic Environment Scotland's Fight for the Castle video clips here:


The core team that created Fight for the Castle were:

Historic Environment Scotland - Interpretation and Content Research

Qualia Limited - 3D Exhibition Design, from Concept to Completion

Matt Johnson - Freelance Project Management

KSLD - Lighting Design and Installation

Splintr - Exhibition Fit-Out Contractor

Ay-Pe - Audio-visual and Immersive Media Specialists

All images of the site and exhibition used by kind permission of Historic Environment Scotland.


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