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Second Royal High School exhibition fleshes out design intent

March 5 2015

Second Royal High School exhibition fleshes out design intent
A second public consultation into the proposed transformation of Edinburgh’s Royal High School into a hotel is to taking place today and tomorrow between 10:00 and 19:00, where the latest thinking behind the high profile project will be outlined.

Organised by Duddingston House Properties, Urbanist Group and Gareth Hoskins Architects the follow-up consultation includes a slew of new artist’s impressions depicting a potential future for the crumbling landmark.

Gareth Hoskins commented: “We’ve created a great deal of space around Hamilton’s strong sculptural building so it becomes the central focus.  The scale of the new symmetrical buildings either side of the centrepiece draws from Hamilton’s architectural language in the use of the stone in a stylised contemporary colonnade.  As the former school is the focal point of the amazing stage set of Calton Hill, we’ve take great care to make sure none of the new elements break the skyline or conflict with the other monuments on this dramatic backdrop.”

David Orr of the Urbanist Group, said: “We’ve responded to what people commented on in the first public consultation and we are keen for people to continue to get in touch with their questions and comments even beyond this current exhibition.  While we’ve had encouragement from some quarters, we also recognise there is anxiety from others so we will continue to gather information and to respond to what people are saying.  We understand the stewardship and responsibility that goes with this proposal and want to do something brilliant for the city.”

A planning application is expected shortly.
A new public entrance will be created opposite St Andrews House
A new public entrance will be created opposite St Andrews House
Hoskins is seeking to improve the setting of the former school by clearing a way a mish mash of later additions
Hoskins is seeking to improve the setting of the former school by clearing a way a mish mash of later additions

Opinions are being sought on the latest iteration of the design
Opinions are being sought on the latest iteration of the design


#1 Posted by jim on 5 Mar 2015 at 10:22 AM
The massing of the new elements seems, to me at least, a little incongruous. I wonder what, if any, justification will be given for building two storeys higher than the perceived height of the High school building.

The wing to the west (left on the photo looking toward Calton Hill) is particularly concerning giving its visual proximity to important historical monuments. I suspect finances will have driven the scale of this rather than any architectural consideration.

My second concern is that in aiming to achieve a sort of Chipperfield-esque austere rationality, Hoskins appears to have landed in the realm of banality. Sometimes not wanting to offend can lead to the most offensive solution. The new build elements feel pretty vacuous and without any real design aspiration.

A little less bulk and maybe some more architectural ambition would be welcome.
#2 Posted by Clashnessie on 5 Mar 2015 at 10:54 AM
Couldn't agree more. The rationale behind the wings approach is a good one but they're so big and simple/banal that they end up standing out when all around them is not simple or banal. I think the height and size is all about maximising bedrooms with epic views.
Big Chantelle
#3 Posted by Big Chantelle on 5 Mar 2015 at 12:01 PM
More urban vandalism by the concrete lovin' modernist brigade.

Why can't any new extension be made in the same architectural style as what is already there? Why? Why produce new extensions which are ugly ?

Oh, I forgot, it's pastiche.............

Best just design something "unapologetically contemporary". Just one problem -- there isn't a consensus on what is 'today's style' thus architects using this argument to justify their crude buildings are proclaiming to speak on behalf of today's society without their approval.

We have arrived at a place in time where we can select different architectural approaches to different projects. It's because today's architects have been conditioned into liberal/lefty culture at their polytechnic training camps that they simply cannot conceive of the BLATANT TRUTH that classical/traditional/baroque etc arhitecture is a VALID and purposeful part of today's word. It's contemporary. Here is an example of why it should be used.

Yep, spoil Edinburgh's skyline so that the guy designing this can do an imitation of another overrated architect -- Chipperfield. But hey, copying from fellow concrete lovin' modernists isn't pastiche. But borrowing form the best examples of the past because they offer the best solutions to the present is the biggest crime one can possibly commit according to you lot.

How much more of this vandalism must we endure?
Stevie Steve
#4 Posted by Stevie Steve on 5 Mar 2015 at 13:29 PM
I like it. I like the simplicity and the nod to classical order. I think hierarchy and horizontality are important on Calton Hill. a single story might actually look worse! However, it still shouldn't be a hotel! keep it public. A nice museum would be good...
Partick Bateman
#5 Posted by Partick Bateman on 5 Mar 2015 at 13:44 PM
Why can't any new extension be made in the same architectural style as what is already there?
Because it would look just as out of place as a "Concrete Modernist Brigade" building.
#6 Posted by james on 5 Mar 2015 at 14:10 PM
Just a thought - from an other 'angle'.

At min. c.£300-£500 per night and full occupancy, THINK KER-CHING!.
c.200 bedrooms x 365 days = revenue of £20-30M+ per annum (leaving the purchase of some pillows and table lamps aside, I know).

In other words, CEC are about to award whoever the owner and the operator is A LICENCE TO PRINT MONEY given that there is no political will for a public use to be found.
So what would Edinburgh gain in return other than some tourist dollars?

Much as the symmetrical relative simplicity and grain is to be applauded, with a hotel typology you will get a fairly effortless simplicity in any case. In other words, I suspect that as a hotel, the bedroom accommodation 'blocks' design themselves. The Chipperfield Swiss elevation is just the particular wrapping (Och, i know its harder than that).

#1 has a more than fair point. Maybe some more architectural ambition ought to be extracted from the owner's huge profit margin by CEC.

Maybe the architectural proposal for this location should run much more and longer.

Bedrooms. Is that it?
Big Chantelle
#7 Posted by Big Chantelle on 5 Mar 2015 at 14:15 PM
@Patrick post #5

Nonsense. Due to the inability of today's architects to design with integrity, we get people like you justifying the mess of buildings we get today.

It's a neoclassical building with two wishy-washy extensions. A building extension could have been designed in the neoclassic style. But hey, that would offend you and fellow lefty architecture critics. It would be 'backward', 'pastiche' and 'not forward looking'. But a bland, immature and lacking 'contemporary' building is erm, perfect.

Aye. Whatevs.
Neil C
#8 Posted by Neil C on 5 Mar 2015 at 14:50 PM
From Spectator Archives 1829
"Scotsman Office, Edin. 27 Nov. 1829." Whether this be a parody on the imperial style of Mr. Thomas Hamilton Architect, we have no means of know- ing ; but we beg to state, that the design of the new Royal High School is in our opinion an affront to the city of Edinburgh. Mr Hamilton states as there have been no farther changes in the work nor, so far as he can perceive, any fresh cause of alarm in their measures. "
#9 Posted by CADMonkey on 5 Mar 2015 at 15:20 PM
Whatever is to be said about the process, in terms of architecture there is not much wrong with this. It is doing a lot of good things. Critics need to study the plans and the full perspectives, not the cropped ones presented here. UR and chance of better imaged?
I think its got wings.
#10 Posted by Egbert on 5 Mar 2015 at 15:58 PM
Big Chantelle where on earth have you laden yourself with the idea that critiques of neoclassical architecture are somehow 'lefty'? Very few posters on here - with the exception of Wonky - actually engage with politics on a traditional left/right binary. For better or worse, most here are critiquing these proposals from an apolitical, design-focused standpoint. Your inability to see beyond your own, largely imaginary pre-conceived labels says far more about you than it does about the folk you lay into.

But hey, by all means keep tilting at those (concrete) windmills; it's nothing if not entertaining.
#11 Posted by Roddy on 5 Mar 2015 at 19:49 PM
Some hilarious bibble above from Mary Whitehouse and Kevin Turvey (you know who you are).

Lets have these new interventions crisp, modern and rational.Beautifully detailed with beautiful materials.

Those with daguerreotype-tinted spectacles out there would probably object to anything that wasn't by those awful wedding cake makers Quinlan and Francis.
(Probably baited the hook a little too well there.)
#12 Posted by Stephen on 5 Mar 2015 at 20:11 PM
#1 has it completely right I think. This scheme is bizarre. In creating "a great deal of space around Hamilton’s...building" by pulling the (far too) big extensions further apart, the whole just seems... well, pulled apart! Why not look to classical references for ways in which wings are applied to such buildings? Examples are numerous. The proportions of the colonnade are also far to delicate for the robust Greek Revival original. Afraid it does come across as a lazy Chipperfield rehash. And did I mention it was far to big!? The massing is much bigger than the apparent "central focus" of Hamilton's school. By Hoskin's logic you could just as well build two giant blank towers and call them "deferential sentinels"...which wouldn't work either.
#13 Posted by RBG on 5 Mar 2015 at 22:58 PM
I agree the height is incongruous set against the scale of the original building and the Calton Hill backdrop. But that is essentially the upper blocks which fail to respect the horizontal lines of Hamilton's neo-classic design. Just consider removing the upper levels of the wings - the height is respectful to both the Royal High and the backdrop - think Royal Commonwealth Pool. But then there are too few bedrooms to make enough money - so think again!
#14 Posted by DoD on 6 Mar 2015 at 09:21 AM
The scale of the wings I don't have a problem with. If they were to lower them it could look banal/retail. I do think there is an opportunity missed with the High School itself. Add something Reichstag-esque to visually tie the three elements and ensure the High School still drew the attention?
#15 Posted by Sven on 6 Mar 2015 at 10:18 AM
The proposal looks awful as it is so intrusive that it thrusts. This looks like a shopping centre, especially the front onto regent Road which is just heinous. Something like the extension of the Maritime Museum on Texel in the Frisians would work as it is modern but looks urban and will look less intrusive than the glass car showroom proposed which is better suited to Perth's motor-mile.
#16 Posted by Cateran on 6 Mar 2015 at 11:57 AM
I'm all for contemporary when it suits, but this sucks the life-blood out of the existing building and typifies much of the 'samey' architecture found throughout Scotland. Banal it is indeed, while craftsmanship is obviously a dirty word.
Methilated Spirits
#17 Posted by Methilated Spirits on 6 Mar 2015 at 17:55 PM
This is an incredibly important site of international significance, not the place to impose modernist 'anywhere' architecture which is well described by others as 'banal'. These proposals would ruin the character of Calton Hill. Dare I say it, but this site, if we must have new development, does really call for stone buildings in a classical style. The architects/developers should be bold enough to resist the inevitable accusations of 'pastiche' and do justice to the location!
Partick Bateman
#18 Posted by Partick Bateman on 9 Mar 2015 at 12:24 PM
It would be 'backward', 'pastiche' and 'not forward looking'.
No, that's not the reason - it would just look rubbish. Like that awful hotel on The Royal Mile.

#19 Posted by Sven on 9 Mar 2015 at 13:09 PM
"No, that's not the reason - it would just look rubbish. Like that awful hotel on The Royal Mile."

Not necessarily so. Walk around the old towns of Warsaw, Gdansk, Nuremburg, Riga etc etc and most buildings are less than 70 years old, in Warsaw the castle dates from the 1980's. I would not necessarily say that is it rubbish because it recreates or mimics.

The Scandic hotel looks pish as it does not recreate a lost building, rather it is a rubbish interpretation of a Scottish vernacular building.
Partick Bateman
#20 Posted by Partick Bateman on 9 Mar 2015 at 15:09 PM
Maybe it can be done in Europe, but I've yet to see it done well here.
Pencil sharpener
#21 Posted by Pencil sharpener on 9 Mar 2015 at 17:52 PM
Nonsense Partick.
What about 1-3 Glenfinlas Street, Edinburgh?
You only haven't seen it because it has been done so well.
Methilated Spirits
#22 Posted by Methilated Spirits on 9 Mar 2015 at 19:05 PM
There are enough planning/architectural fiascos shaping up in Scotland's major cities without making a pig's ear out of this as well! Of course there must exist talented architects who are capable of building in traditional classical style and Mr Sharpener has indicated one example. It is interesting that Mr Bateman digressed into mention of the 'Scandic' hotel in the Royal Mile. I seem to recall that some architectural organisation in Edinburgh conducted an opinion poll with regard to public perception of that building and, much to its surprise, found close to 100% approval rating. In this context, it's no wonder that the punters out there are concerned about modernist monstrosities appearing in our cities in locations where existing character would suggest a more traditional approach.

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