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St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development

St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development

Opportunities to create distinctive new architecture in the centre of Edinburgh are quite rare but the new courtyard development for St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral at the east end of York Place illustrates the potential of simple, efficient modern design to sit comfortably in a tight urban setting and to offer real practical gains for the church and the wider public.

The accommodation, created on the site of an existing car park to the south of the Cathedral, provides a fully accessible multi-purpose hall, meeting room and café, available for use by the local community. The hall holds about 200 people and will have a wide range of uses including wedding receptions, jumble sales and Festival performances.

The building aims to be energy efficient. It is south facing, makes maximum use of daylight and is largely naturally ventilated. The main spaces open on to an outside courtyard to extend their flexibility whenever the weather permits.

Our aspiration was to build what is a simple building simply, to: provide natural ventilation whilst allowing blinds to drop and black out the space; control views out (it’s not the most beautiful of settings); screen private areas; allow views in to the café.

Initially these criteria and this notion of a simple building envelope translated literally into a structural glass box. Through development however, the simplicity of the idea disappeared under the weight of the various technical solution s required to make the wall function. Overhangs appeared, acres of louvred vents were introduced, along with external sliding screens.

There was a gradual realisation and eventually acceptance – hastened by the reality of budget – that the seemingly crude solution of a curtain wall with “glazed-in” vents and doors resolved all of the above issues. Reference to early Sejima projects leant reassurance that whilst practical, the end result would not appear overly prosaic.

Whilst a compositional device, varying the centres of the mullions (based on a 300mm module) allows for flexibility in internal planning, setting positions of doors, etc and the use of a double mullion makes for a neat resolution of the junctions of the glass wall with doors, vents and flashings and provides a wide face for butting-in partitions.

Although principally south facing, the translucent glazing (acid-etched) interspersed with clear panels, at high level in the hall provides even daylighting without significant glare. At low level in the hall the glass is entirely transparent allowing views out into what will, given time, become a parish garden. Translucent panels screen the lobby into the wc’s.
PROJECT: St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development
LOCATION: Edinburgh
CLIENT: St Mary’s Cathedral
SERVICES ENGINEER: Irons Foulner Partnership
QUANTITY SURVEYOR: The Murdie Partnership
St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development
St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development
St Mary's Cathedral Courtyard Development

Main Contractor:  W & JR Watson
Photographer:  Keith Hunter
Underfloor Heating:  Invisible Heating Systems

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