Lothian Road Development
4 Jun 2008
LOTHIAN ROAD: How, through urban re-design can run down, key city streets become fine places?
We feel there’s quite a bit of unfinished business on Lothian Road. The Exchange project has almost been completed and the effect of the former goods yard that acted as a barrier between Morrison Street, Lothian Road, Princes Street and Rutland Square has been substantially diminished through the introduction of pedestrian routes and lively new activities. However new buildings are still needed on Morrison Street to augment the Conference Centre extension.
Since the masterplan was carried out without the masterplanner involved in its detailed implementation, the overall outcome is mixed, as is the quality of some of the architecture. But in terms of the pedestrian environment, whilst much improved there remains the way that Lothian Road and the West Approach Road now meet. This entire intersection needs to be radically rethought, as it is one of the worst examples of suburban highway planning foisted on a town centre. The railings, traffic islands and multitude of pedestrian crossings all need to be challenged. The aim should be to integrate the Exchange and the cultural activities on Lothian Road with Princes Street and the core of the city.
With the Edinburgh Filmhouse, theatres, Usher Hall, luxury hotels and a new public piazza at Festival Square, it is an area of great potential. But whilst Festival Square is actively and intensively used during the Festival and at Christmas, there is not a great tradition of ‘place’, or of how to use and manage such spaces. In fact, it needs a 12 month, 18/7 management programme. Richard Murphy’s imaginative film centre scheme was very welcome, but we felt as the creators and masterplanners that there should be a debate about the square. We have also proposed a new cinema, but this would be set below ground, with a Louvre type pavilion entrance, along with cafés on the square, offering the opportunity for outdoor film screenings. We believe that the debate about how to use and activate this space requires more thought and discussion.
But the most significant urban improvement is the connection of the Usher Hall with a wide pedestrian crossing to Festival Square, thereby linking a major cultural venue with the square itself. This strengthens urban connections and enhances the potential for outdoor cultural activities, such as performance, theatre and film in conjunction with Usher Hall.
Lothian Road itself is a generously wide street, and as part of the Design Champion’s initiative, architect Neil Gillespie of Reiach & Hall has been asked to consider how it might be developed. Though this investigation has not yet concluded, a number of workshops have explored how to improve one of Edinburgh’s major urban thoroughfares.