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Fraser loses out on the Cowgate while Murray cleans up

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January 27 2006

Despite having painstakingly brought the eight different owners of the site together over two years, Malcolm Fraser Architects has been overlooked to design a replacement for the building destroyed in the Cowgate fire of 2002.

Whiteburn, the developer that bought out the eight original owners, has appointed Allan Murray Architects, which it worked with on The Tun in north Holyrood. John Shepherd, managing director of Whiteburn, said: “Without Malcolm’s efforts we don’t know where we’d be. He did a lot, both bringing together people and talking to council planners. However, when the site owners got the law firm McGregors involved, it ended up as a competition.” Despite having convinced planners that a modern, high-density design was required, Fraser himself was sanguine about losing out. “We are disappointed on a personal basis but we wish everyone the best of luck,” he said, adding that “Whiteburn have a track record of making the best of tricky urban sites.”

Fraser, however, suggested that an opportunity to preserve the same unique balance that had existed in the site before the fire had been lost. “We concentrated on finding consensus between the interests of the owners, the surrounding community – including students who don’t have a voice but have traditionally enjoyed the site – and council planners,” he said.
Currently the only original user of the building who will enter the new building is Hafid Mahboub, owner of La Belle Angele nightclub. A new venue will be built on the site of the original, at the core of the building. In addition, the developers hope to secure the same number of licensed premises in the new building as were in the former. Shepherd confirmed that Whiteburn is in discussions to find a main user. “One anchor would be the best idea, although planners would be looking for mixed-use with a degree of permeability, namely a connection through the site between Chambers Street and the Cowgate,” he said. A hotel group has expressed interest in the site and Whiteburn and the are in discussions with others.

Allan Murray Architects has also been appointed to work for developer Kilmartin in the latest development on Leith Street, which is only metres away from the Carlton Gate development AMA hopes to act as master planners on for Mountgrange, the English development company managed by Mannish Chandry. The development is currently going through a painstaking consultation which will culminate in the submission of a planning application in April. According to Murray, the recent spate of work is the vindication of specialist knowledge. “We see it as a privilege to try and understand the city we live in. Architects are working all over the world, but I think you have to understand the city you are from first. Sometimes an intimate knowledge of one place is the best route to good architecture,” he said.

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