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Historic hospital harnesses the past in a pivot to the future

May 31 2024

Historic hospital harnesses the past in a pivot to the future

A historic hospital that closed in 2003 has switched from caring for individuals to caring for the planet and society in its new guise as the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

The Old Royal Infirmary Building on Lauriston Place, An A-listed Scots Baronial pile that was ahead of its time when built in 1879, once again finds itself thrust into the future as a base for researchers, students and university partners to develop ideas in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to philosophy. Tasked with tackling social inequality and climate change occupants will share new ideas and fresh approaches - all while maintaining public access and doubling as a new home to both the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Architecture & Design Scotland.

A design team led by AtkinsRéalis, with architects Bennetts Associates and main contractor Balfour Beatty, have delivered the complex package of refurbishment, extensions and improvements needed to reimagine the hospital as a 20,000 sqm research and innovation hub. At pains to retain key features such as the precious Nightingale Wards, repurposed as teaching and workspaces as well as giant flagstone floors, the design team has painstakingly peeled back layers of benign institutional neglect to reveal giant flagstone paving and exposed stone walls.

Lost details have also been reintroduced including decorative stone finials representing Thistle's, Shamrocks, and Fleur-de-lys. New additions meanwhile follow a simple concrete grid pattern to sit incongruously alongside the old, an approach given fullest expression in a cavernous events space hollowed out beneath a new arrivals square. Belying its subterranean nature this top-lit space is flooded with light from clerestory windows and two glazed light towers.

Lead architect James Nelmes of Bennetts Associates said: "We adopted a visionary approach to blend functionalism with the romantic Scottish baronial style, seamlessly integrating modern functionality with the building’s historic charm. Originally designed for infection control through isolation, the building now facilitates the spread of ideas by integration and collaboration, transforming it into a dynamic environment for a forward-thinking educational institution.”

A formal public opening will take place on 3 June. Images by Keith Hunter Photography.

Historic Nightingale Wards have been repurposed as light and airy office space
Historic Nightingale Wards have been repurposed as light and airy office space
New and extended stairs serve as the backbone of the building
New and extended stairs serve as the backbone of the building


#1 Posted by Lovely on 31 May 2024 at 10:30 AM
The staircase looks really great but the offices look terribly anodyne for an A lister.

I mean could the furnishings and interior be any less sustainable, less aesthetically pleasing and less appropriate?
Graeme McCormick
#2 Posted by Graeme McCormick on 31 May 2024 at 12:11 PM
agree! are such offices needed nowadays? given the purpose of the building not a lot of forward thinking has gone into the office accommodation.
#3 Posted by Craigbert on 31 May 2024 at 14:32 PM
A stunning building which has been redeveloped wit lots of nice touches. Walking round seeing acres of unused / under-used space, I do wonder what the purpose is? I do love the use of 'surgical scrub green' on some floors. Nice touch.
town planner
#4 Posted by town planner on 31 May 2024 at 19:31 PM
Yes looks like they've done a really good job.

Only query I have would be the sizeable green lawns at the back. Fools and bairns etc so maybe they're not finished yet, but as stands they look pretty old school, and could have been landscaped in a much more interesting way, that would have been better for wildlife too. I assume the thinking is that they will be pitching tents on it for Edinburgh Book Festivals etc.

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