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Conservation circle now complete

December 15 2005

In one stroke, Historic Scotland has listed the largest swathe of post-war architecture in its history and in doing so brought the history of the conservation movement in Edinburgh full circle. Eight University of Edinburgh buildings; Pollock Halls of Residence (Phases I and II) in Prestonfield by Rowand Anderson, Kininmonth and Paul, the David Hume Tower (DHT) by Robert Matthew, and Spence’s Main Library were all granted Grade A listings last month. In addition, a special group listing for the buildings on the podium on the south-east corner of George Square was granted. “We have not really yet done 20th century thematics on any scale, so this a big move,” said a Historic Scotland spokesperson.

Ranald MacInnes, principal inspector of historical buildings and head of the Edinburgh team, said: “The demolition of parts of George Street and its rebuilding led to a particularly painful period in the history of Edinburgh and although it’s less so now, we still felt that when we made these decisions.” Although the plans for demolishing the Georgian architecture on the south and east of the square dated from the late 1940s, a huge row between conservationists and modernisers took place at the university from 1958 to 1961.
“The arguments generated by those who wanted to retain the Georgian buildings on the south and east of George Square gave rise to the conservation movement in Scotland,” said MacInnes. According to Miles Glendinning, director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh College of Art, the listings “could be seen as a settling of an account. The David Hume Tower and the Main Library in particular are both outstanding, far in excess of the clutter of 18th-century buildings that they replaced.”

Although listing legislation was created to protect the architecture that the David Hume Tower and others replaced, these very buildings are now the beneficiaries of this listing. Robert Matthew, Professor of Architecture at the University of Edinburgh (1953 to 1968), designed DHT and was on the side of the anti-conservationists on George Square. However, he later went on to be instrumental in establishing the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee in the early Seventies.

“Although Matthew was educated in the Edinburgh traditions of conservation, he felt that what was being gained at George Square outweighed what was being lost. These listings are a vindication of that approach,” said Glendinning.

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