Newsletter - Links - Advertise - Contact Us - Privacy

Richard Murphy and Simpson & Brown to table alternate Royal High School vision

September 23 2015

Richard Murphy and Simpson & Brown to table alternate Royal High School vision
Richard Murphy Architects and Simpson & Brown have been appointed to develop alternate proposals for the restoration of Edinburgh’s former Royal High School, which would see the Calton Hill landmark turned into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust has appointed the practices to develop detailed designs for its restoration after making a formal offer of £1.5m to purchase the site, backed by the philanthropic Dunard Fund.

This sum exceeds the value placed on the buildings by the City of Edinburgh Council and forms part of a larger funding package to underwrite the cost of conservation and conversion to a teaching and performance space.

Murphy said: “This is a wonderful site, an exceptionally important building and a delightful client and brief; what architect could not relish such a prospect? We look forward to working closely with the Trust, the School and the rest of the design team."

Initial designs for the new school are expected to be released ‘within weeks’, outlining an alternative vision to that proposed by Hoskins Architects, which would see the school turned into a hotel.


#1 Posted by pedant on 23 Sep 2015 at 10:48 AM
Can we just stop this right now?
Using the word, 'alternate' instead of alternative.
Just stop it.
Sounds like some American sales person.
This is Scotland we live in here, no Kalamazoo
#2 Posted by Tullochgorum on 23 Sep 2015 at 11:56 AM
Simpson & Brown... James Simpson is leading the charge for the hotel scheme's refusal through his role as UK vice-president of UNESCO advisors, Icomos UK. Conflict of interest, no?
Alternate mind
#3 Posted by Alternate mind on 23 Sep 2015 at 12:07 PM
I have an alternate opinion on the matter.
D to the R
#4 Posted by D to the R on 23 Sep 2015 at 12:58 PM
Well here we go again - another effort from the modernist squad ..... Oh Sorry ... Just pre-empting Big Chantelle's next post ....
Lindsay Buchan
#5 Posted by Lindsay Buchan on 23 Sep 2015 at 13:34 PM
Tullochgorum is absolutely right, it is entirely inappropriate for Simpson & Brown to have anything to do with this, this highlights the danger of Architects becoming members of things like the AHSS and the Cockburn Society
Rupert the Bear
#6 Posted by Rupert the Bear on 23 Sep 2015 at 14:11 PM
#2&#5 Agreed. Also, 'Tim Nice-but-dim' Simpson is an ideological throw back of the Roger Scruton kind and the self-appointed grandees of organisations such as the Cockburn Society (as the name suggests) do exactly as it says on the tin. There, rant over. I say, anyone for tennis?
#7 Posted by RJB on 23 Sep 2015 at 17:35 PM
#6 Seems a wee bit harsh. Surely the perfect place for a bit of ideological throwing back , given how Hoskins seems to failed completely.
#8 Posted by Cadmonkey on 23 Sep 2015 at 21:52 PM
What a ridiculous set of comments from so called "open minded" architects.
Surely the built environment would benefit from having more architects as members of organisations such as UNESCO and Cockburn.
It is ridiculous to suggest that membership of these organisations should prevent an expert architect from accepting a commission to work on a historic iconic building in his/her city.
I suggest you all think again.
#9 Posted by pedant on 24 Sep 2015 at 09:02 AM
Dear RJB, libel law forbids me to say anything other than, if you have ever had specific dealings with James you would know that my point is not 'a wee bit harsh'. If I were Edinburgh, I'd happily take my chances with either RM or GH.

Also, I think Cadmonkey's first point is a very valid one regarding architects being members of these advisory 'organisations', considering the wholly impracticable and convoluted 'ideological' tosh that this society and others like them can produce as 'consultees' for Edinburgh planning applications. However, the clichéd words, poacher and gamekeeper come to mind (as 'lunatics and asylum' is most definitely not pc).

Regarding the second conflict of interest point, (which is perhaps really more to do with integrity?), both the ARB and RIBA codes of conduct (arguably risible in themselves, having just re-read them) are clearly written so that lawyers could be employed in perpetuity arguing a case for or against, whether a breach of the code has occurred. What we think is obviously neither here nor there. Nevertheless, heads have been known to roll on the basis of public perception, should they be informed.

Just sayin, ken.
#10 Posted by Tullochgorum on 24 Sep 2015 at 10:17 AM
#9 - It's a delicate issue but this case is more than mere "membership". Simpson has arguably been the harshest and most visible opponent of the hotel scheme: writing letters to newspaper editors urging its refusal, speaking at public meetings, quoted in most media coverage of the RHS story through his role with Icomos-UK. He's been the driving force in arranging the Icomos site visit to pile further pressure on the council to reject the application. Now it emerges that if his campaign is successful then he will benefit financially through his own practice inheriting the project... You obviously disagree, but I can't be the only one who feels that is more than a wee bit questionable.
#11 Posted by pedant on 24 Sep 2015 at 10:28 AM
Dear Tullochgorum, please read what i said. i don't 'obviously disagree' with your general point at all. Putting my Perry Mason hat on, there are 2 clear separate issues here though, not to be conflated into the one.
#12 Posted by CADMonkey on 24 Sep 2015 at 10:55 AM
What is wrong with an architect benefiting financially from his own hard work? Nothing here is against the ARB or RIBA Codes of Conduct. Point out facts please if you disagree.

Let's not lose the point though, a truly iconic world class listed building looks set to be saved and returned to its former use rather than morphed into a rather exclusive hotel with strange interpretations of Inca settlements bolted onto its flanks.

Saved by an architect with a vision who recognises the building's importance and finds an appropriate use for it! Architects should support this kind of thing rather than be slaves.
#13 Posted by Tullochgorum on 24 Sep 2015 at 12:41 PM
Pendant - I miswrote the post number and was replying to CADMonkey not you. Sorry. I agree with everything you said.

CADMonkey - Benefiting through hard work? Nothing wrong with it. Benefiting through lobbying in your role on a charitable conservation body? I'm sure you are better informed on the legalities but it seems like a grey area to me, and with likely legal action from the developers if the Hoskins scheme is refused then it might just make a messy situation even worse. I think for the avoidance of any doubt, Simpson & Brown should have steered clear.

I'm not sure what the aesthetic merits of the rival proposals has to do with possible COI but let's wait and see what RMA are going to "bolt on" to the eastern flank first, though I expect it'll be more Scarpa than Inca.
#14 Posted by pedant on 24 Sep 2015 at 13:03 PM
Dear CADMonkey,
I have no axe to grind here and come in peace, but in answer to your query, what is wrong with an architect benefiting financially from his own hard work? Not a lot, but here's the specific point - I think that if in Edinburgh, if Simpson & Brown e.g. were to lobby consistently through various channels against development (where they would wish to see some 250 year-old utopian dream come to fruition) and that a more 'modern' development were then to happen to fall by the wayside (either through objections, planning inertia or a lack of political will to see it through), and they were to consequently profit by obtaining work from that fall-out, then they would be in the position of being no more than ambulance chasers, where they will have also have contributed to the accident (to stretch the metaphor) and will have questionably negatively influenced due democratic planning process for their own gain. Now, this could be described as hard work and work it is, but whether it is within the remits of Architects to do so is another matter. Leaving aside the legals and codes of conduct, this position would not be sustainable should an informed public smell impropriety. This scenario could potentially bring the profession into disrepute. Conjecture, I know, but this is a reasonable argument, surely?
#15 Posted by CADMonkey on 24 Sep 2015 at 14:10 PM
I don't see any impropriety on the rival scheme side of things.
I see belief and a passionate attempt to protect a building the council seems to be happy to be architecturally vandalised.

the council side is a bit more dubious though. Iit seems the estate/money/planning departments aren't speaking to each other, or they are and hope the Planning Committee will just see lucre and grant planning - only for Historic Scotland to call it in and refuse it - wasting a lot of time, and council tax payer/developer money.....but that's another issue entirely.

Perhaps Simpson sees himself in a Ghostbuster type role or something like that.
"if there's something strange in your neighbourhood....who you gonna call? Simpson and Brown."
#16 Posted by Stephen on 24 Sep 2015 at 16:14 PM
It's quite clear to me that if someone is a member of a respected organisation and uses their influence in that role to thwart the actions of another AND then either benefits or is perceived to benefit financially in his/her capacity within a further role (unrelated to the first), then that is a clear conflict of interest, bringing both the person and the bodies that he/she represents (e.g. ARB, RIBA, his/her practice, the Cockburn Society, AHSS etc), into disrepute.
Whether that's the case here or not isn't clear to me. UR comments are hardly a reliable source of facts.
#17 Posted by warhorse on 25 Sep 2015 at 19:00 PM
Modernists needn't be nihilists, as in Philip Johnson and his campaign to save Grand Central Station. Why this over-provision of 5* hotel space in Edinburgh anyway? The stats don't support the delusional business plans. The developer already own a derelict cinema in South Clerk Street - why do they want to wreck one of the finest neo-Greek buildings in the world? Something stinks here.
#18 Posted by Tullochgorum on 9 Oct 2015 at 17:08 PM
Mainstream press catch on to the potential COI.
kevin toner
#19 Posted by kevin toner on 11 Dec 2015 at 16:57 PM
Good link in the last comment.

However, the deniable ‘conflict of interest’ matter is not really the issue for the ICOMOS UK advisor that’s associated with one of these schemes, but rather a huge issue for ICOMOS itself if either of the schemes are to be entertained, particularly the more damning of the two to which the advisor has rightly had to disassociate with.

The associated conservation architectural practice that has lodged a planning application to redevelop – with replacement, not enhanced, built forms rather than enhanced landscaping – a significant part of what is arguably one of the UK’s most important World Heritage sites has naturally teamed with the architect that it’s worked with before on other culturally significant jobs, e.g. Stirling Tollbooth (?)

Therefore the connection linking this architectural conservation firm/team directly with the said local ICOMOS advisor is not what’s dubious per se.

What will become terribly dubious for ICOMOS though, if ‘any’ of the proposed built forms are permitted, is that the organisation will be internationally seen to be supporting Edinburgh’s WHS status in the face of a severe sites vandalism: 1) enabled by the authorities delegated to its care; and 2) led by on the one hand i) civic-led heritage societies etc. en-mass (it perhaps not helping that the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust itself being a supporter as reported on the Edinburgh News of late?) promoting the music complex; &/or on the other hand ii) a developer promoting hospitality, the latter ironically being less damning to the Cultural Heritage than the former, and that’s saying something, as I’m sure any enlightened person would agree!

Ergo the alleged ‘conflict of interest’ isn’t with a UK advisor as such, but with ICOMOS itself as an organisation ready to be discredited whoever its UK’s advisors are (should authority be granted to vandalise these UNESCO subjects in the above way, manner of schemes).

Post your comments


All comments are pre-moderated and
must obey our house rules.


Back to September 2015

Search News
Subscribe to Urban Realm Magazine
Features & Reports
For more information from the industry visit our Features & Reports section.