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Calton Hill observatory to be transformed into arts base

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April 15 2015

Calton Hill observatory to be transformed into arts base
Visual art organisation Collective has unveiled its vision for the redevelopment of the City Observatory complex atop Calton Hill, Edinburgh, transforming the former seat of science into a £3.5m headquarters and gallery space.

Designed by William Henry Playfair as an astronomical eyrie the hilltop complex was once at the heart of the Enlightenment but now languishes on the Buildings at Risk Register, fuelling Collective’s desire to bring the area back to life.

To that end Malcolm Fraser Architects have been brought on board to conserve and reinstate the 19th century landmark and its grounds whilst constructing a subterranean gallery space. A restaurant will be situated in a corner pavilion to take advantage of expansive views across the Old and New Towns.

Malcolm Fraser said: “We love thinking about how artists will use this site and believe that the creative interaction between art and science, that the Collective’s rejuvenation of the site brings, is visionary and exciting.  Art might just deliver something forward-looking for astronomy that is thrillingly-complementary to the site’s history.

“Our concern has been with the evolution of the site. Robert Adam urged James Craig – architect for the New Town and the site’s first designer – to consider it as a fortified enclosure with towers at its corners. Playfair’s temple precinct magnificently advanced that vision, except at the north-west corner, where the site breaks down into minor buildings. 

“We propose a Pavilion there, engaging the wall and with inspirational views out over Edinburgh to the Forth Bridges and back to Playfair’s temple. The Pavilion also encloses a west lawn, for sitting out, and a court to the north, edged by a new Gallery which is set into the hill, with a terrace over. We repair the whole site, recovering the subdivided interior of Playfair’s main building and setting all within rising, spiraling paths.”

Two open days will be held within the recently refurbished City Dome on 17 and 18 April with works moving on-site by the end of the year for completion by 2016.
calton Hill is one of Scotland's first public parks
calton Hill is one of Scotland's first public parks
New display and interpretation panels will communicate the history of the site and its collection of astronomical instruments to the public
New display and interpretation panels will communicate the history of the site and its collection of astronomical instruments to the public

Whilst Collective has raised the majority of the cash it needs fundraiaing is still ongoing to realise its vision
Whilst Collective has raised the majority of the cash it needs fundraiaing is still ongoing to realise its vision

5 Comments

Darth Vader
#1 Posted by Darth Vader on 16 Apr 2015 at 18:02 PM
Why the sports pavilion / changing room aesthetic for such an important corner? Seems to lack ambition.
visitor
#2 Posted by visitor on 20 Apr 2015 at 06:06 AM
i really like the heavy plinth entrance, though the final balustrade detailing will make or break it. I'm sure Fraser and his team will nail it, though. I'm also 'undecided' about the pavillion. It looks a little too 'light', but without that having been the intention. Look forward to seeing the final outcome. A great re-use of this stunning little corner of Edinburgh. There is a thriving artists community in Edinburgh, tucked into various pockets and gems, and I hope that it manages to be a 'working' space, rather than just another gallery. I was blown away by a visit to Leith School of Art recently. Amazing little place in an old Norwegian church.
alibi
#3 Posted by alibi on 26 Apr 2015 at 17:32 PM
this is a poorly chosen location for a contemporary art gallery. nae footfall (apart from tourists) = no integration with the city.
Malcolm Fraser
#4 Posted by Malcolm Fraser on 27 Apr 2015 at 18:39 PM
They had a soft opening during August and it was extremely busy - not just tourists but locals drawn to a site iconic enough to create its own footfall. And with detailing plinth will lighten and pavilion get heavier - much work to come.
alibi
#5 Posted by alibi on 1 May 2015 at 18:54 PM
aye, i was up there at the time. just feel its a shame that you'll never have local punters going about day-to-day life passing the premises. contemporary art is aloof enough as it is - they should be sticking it in folks faces.

still, i'm sure the project will be a success architecturally.

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