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Apartments plug last Royal Mile gap site

September 12 2018

Apartments plug last Royal Mile gap site

Unicorn Properties have completed an unusual development of 13 apartments at 123 High Street on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile by carefully constructing a four storey new build addition atop the remains of three listed stone buildings, including the B-listed Mitre Bar.

Sitting on top of a concrete deck the timber extension presented a number of particular challenges, not least the complexity of the plumbing to avoid weakening joists unnecessarily and resulting in the use of pipework specified by Rehau.

Designed by JM Architects the £3.2m infill build sits on the northern side of the High Street within the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, employing a sympathetic sandstone façade to satisfy these demands.

Belying its historic appearance all homes will benefit from oak flooring and the latest appliances.

A formal opening for the project is anticipated by autumn 2018.

A two-phase construction method was employed to create a transfer deck and superstructure
A two-phase construction method was employed to create a transfer deck and superstructure


Craig Comerford
#1 Posted by Craig Comerford on 12 Sep 2018 at 13:20 PM
This is at best anodyne, and at worst a model of "hystericism" as opposed to historicism. It is "hysterically" politically correct, and as architecture, a banal failure. False chimnies might pass, but a false pediment is at best anachronistic. The openings have no Relationship with the context; they might work better in the New Town visually. NOTHING is right about this insertion (except perhaps the stone facing). It is though a great example of what happens when a toothless and untalented planning department is confronted with a relentless developper.
#2 Posted by StyleCouncil on 12 Sep 2018 at 13:31 PM
There needs to be a serious discussion about this.
Immediately adjacent to, and visible from, the Royal Mile we have the dogs breakfast that is Premier Inn World (with boak inducing red cladding bit) and the architecturally banal New Street development, both opposite our learned friends at CEC planning. Meanwhile we have this WH brown nosing, time-warp infill.
Both equally tragic.

Nairn's Bairn
#3 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 12 Sep 2018 at 14:24 PM
I don't mind this. Building in a World Heritage Site means you're caught between a rock and hard place (literally in this case).

There are those that will argue for something modern (an approach which often gets criticism from the public), and those that will argue for vernacular character (an approach often criticised by architects, labelling such buildings as 'pastiche' - look at the mauling Ian Begg gets for the Radisson, though the public love it).

This is somewhere in between, and while it may not offer something new, it will weather in quite nicely and as long as it doesn't offend the eye as you meander down the Royal Mile then it will have succeeded.

We obviously need to avoid watering down the quality of the street architecture, but in this case the building replaces a relatively modern, poor quality, single storey, flat-roofed and decaying infill building. On balance the quality has been upped so let's all be thankful to the architects and authorities for doing a good job. It's not an eyesore - hooray!
#4 Posted by Cadmonkey on 12 Sep 2018 at 18:30 PM
Shane on you Nairn’s Bairn.
This proposal appears to have ignored the historical fues, and sailed a 2018 pastiche over a historic close and tried to unify 2 historic pubs. The upper level mock Georgian (whatever it is??) facade clumsily linking them solely to up the GIFA for commercial greed frankly does (or should) offend any architectural eye.
A clever contemporary development would have been miles better!
#5 Posted by Philip on 12 Sep 2018 at 20:29 PM
A heavy slice of mock Georgian Poundbury at the centre of the UNESCO theme park. Are you really surprised #2.
The Pontificals at WH and HES subversives will be lighting a smug, postcoital ciggie
Ewan Lamont
#6 Posted by Ewan Lamont on 12 Sep 2018 at 23:52 PM
This looks very nice. Those who hate can go and gaze on Jury's Inn, that MCM gem at the back of this.
boaby wan
#7 Posted by boaby wan on 13 Sep 2018 at 09:09 AM
I'm not particularly knowledgeable on the historic styles in this area of edinburgh, but surely that - whatever it is meant to be - doesn't reflect anything in close proximity?
When there was a space, it meant a bit of visual interest and variation of scale but this just fills the footprint and adds a bit of bland sandstone, disappointing that something like this can sail through planning
#8 Posted by Disneyland on 13 Sep 2018 at 10:18 AM
- Georgian and Victorian. In this case, this is pseudo-Georgian sandwiched between 2 Victorian buildings. As you know, this 'architectural' approach is taken primarily to secure planning. In that sense, its really just about money. Nothing else, except that Edinburgh is left with a legacy of ersatz in its fabric. Piss poor, if you ask me.
Walt Disney
#9 Posted by Walt Disney on 13 Sep 2018 at 11:29 AM
Too many tortured wee souls on UR who seem to balk at the idea that anyone should make money from property development. Nothing gets built in the private sector if there isn't a working financial appraisal. I know the project pretty well and I'd suggest that the developer will do well to make a modest margin on a nightmare site on the royal mile.

The facade isn't my cup of tea. Its a self concious and apologetic, but that's where ECC planning will lead you, and I suspect that the developer, faced with diminishing profit and escalating delivery issues, would have suggested that JM take the path of least resistance. I think everyone gets too hung up on 'style' and fashion, rather than just doing something that is good quality and appropriate. Got to say one of my least favourite buildings on the High Street is the storytelling centre. Looks like a community centre in Airdrie.
#10 Posted by Egbert on 13 Sep 2018 at 12:02 PM
#3 The 'relatively modern, poor quality, single storey, flat-roofed and decaying infill building' is still there underneath this - it is in fact the truncated remnant of the full-height tenements that stood there until the upper floors were lopped off (always a crass move and one that has disfigured so many streetscapes in Glasgow) following a fire in 1966. The left-hand portion, corresponding to the pedimented neoclassical part of the re-build, dated from 1817 so the neo-Georgian style might be accurate - I've not seen any pre-1970 photos so I don't know. The narrower right-hand block was 18th century but had fabric from the 16th and 17th centuries, so the new elevation outline looks vaguely plausible with its central wallhead gable. What I find most troubling about the new scheme is its crude unification of both sides, and its failure to respect the different levels across the three original burgage plots. By making such a meal of the concrete deck, which is jarringly obvious as a thick band below 2nd floor, it creates a horizontal emphasis across the elevation which disrupts the vertical definition of the plots and kills the unity of the right hand block by inserting an awkward break above first floor. This is compounded by the fact that they haven't even managed to get the upper floor windows aligned with the surviving ones below - what's the point of contextualism if you can't get something as simple as this right? As a result it just looks awkward and unconvincing, sadly.
#11 Posted by Kyle on 13 Sep 2018 at 13:18 PM
Looks great. The pediment/chimney combo is a bit odd but clearly it's a nod to the old tenement:
#12 Posted by StlyeCouncil on 13 Sep 2018 at 13:32 PM
Having just peddled past, the view from the North Bridge junction particularly emphasises the odd horizontal treatment, especially given the angle of the plot which doesn’t align with the street. Is there a technical reason why it could be portioned vertically to reflect the three historic plots?

Most architects get the reality of their client’s requirement to generate economically viable developments Walt…and their struggle with planning in Edinburgh due to the spectre of WH and HES. It is no less worthwhile to point out the tragedy of having to build mock Georgian in 2018 and that we have to put up with the nonsense that is WH.

In the likely event of WH and HES demanding that the citizens of the UNESCO WHS should adorn breeches, cravats and silk waist coats, there should be similar criticism.
tortured wee soul
#13 Posted by tortured wee soul on 13 Sep 2018 at 14:13 PM
Dear Walt - why don't they (developers) play the stock market instead if they just want to make money, instead of producing this type of urban legacy? That IS the point, surely?
#14 Posted by GlasgowSmilesBetter on 13 Sep 2018 at 16:38 PM
horrific...THE END
#15 Posted by FHM on 13 Sep 2018 at 17:45 PM
Jeezo. Compare this dross with what Chipperfield has just completed on an equally historic street in London (the new East entrance to Selfridge's) and contrast the quality. Shame. At least we know that the new Impact centre is in good hands.
Nairn's Bairn
#16 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 13 Sep 2018 at 18:40 PM
#11 Kyle - that photo is great and explains it all - the proposal basically replicates what was removed to shop level. Fascinating. I did think the dormer and pediment were odd but it just goes to show, it was there all those years ago. Great job!
#17 Posted by alibi on 13 Sep 2018 at 22:49 PM
This one has made rather a fool of the experts on here. The truth is that many buildings on the HS are actually not very old at all, and there is a mix of architectural styles present. This fits fine, and it was a minor miracle to get that gap filled frankly. I read about the background to this development some time back. It was incredibly complicated. I don't begrudge the developer's profit in this instance - all power to them.
#18 Posted by Cadmonkey on 13 Sep 2018 at 23:39 PM
So rebuilding a pastiche on the nations most important street as a poor pastiche of that original pastiche is to be applauded is it?
And by the way the Planning Permission shows the windows all lining up, so what went wrong with the setting out?
And another thing, what was the £750k of Heritage Lottery Funding mentioned in the Planning report used for?

Nairn's Bairn
#19 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 14 Sep 2018 at 08:48 AM
#17 You're right, haha. All those commenters saying it doesn't reflect historical cues etc were blown out of the water by the photo posted at #11. That photo looks like it was taken in the 1970s but the buildings appear a good deal older.

It may be a rebuild of a 'pastiche' Cadmonkey, but much of the High Street could be called a pastiche to varying degrees. At least this has some sort of historical precedent in that it has rebuilt what went before (with some mild simplification). This is fine; it could have been awful.

People should save their indignant rage for where it's deserved (see 'Golden Turd' etc)..
#20 Posted by Disneyland on 14 Sep 2018 at 09:42 AM
#17-#19 -
Its a fair discussion, but I'm with Cadmonkey on this one. Even if this approach is just a one-off, taking the logic of the proposal ad absurdum, that it's good/fine to replace what was there once upon a time, we would be endlessly reproducing the past ad infinitum. This begs the obvious question - is what we are doing even if its just an expedient one-off in anyway AUTHENTIC? - here's a clue - does anybody write like Wordsworth NOW? Nope.

I enjoyed the discussion though.
Nairn's Bairn
#21 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 14 Sep 2018 at 10:38 AM
#20 I agree and think that approach should be taken in normal circumstances, but we have here a Worls Heritage Site which has its own unique character, and sometimes authenticity has to take a back seat. The street merits its status due to its history and architecture, but a lot of the reason it gets so much protection is to maintain the flow of visitors to the Old Town. It's an extremely valuable asset in all sorts of ways. In this one street they can revel in 'Old Edinburgh' and soak up the character. ‘Authentic’ current architecture is available to view everywhere else, for better or for worse.
See also the 'why rebuild a pastiche, lets do something current' campaign at Glasgow School of Art. Sometimes there is an argument for maintaining/recreating history, even if it means a lost opportunity for a starchitect to build whatever style is currently hot. And that, quite frankly, is not always a huge loss to the world.
#22 Posted by StyleCouncil on 14 Sep 2018 at 10:50 AM
#19 Not sure that anyone has been blown out of the water with the ‘revelations’ on the original building……. I don’t think anyone thought that JM’s Georgian Pastiche division conceived this as an original, historically referenced work. Just ‘cause it was there before doesn’t legitimise replicating it in 2018….with a concrete deck, ‘oak flooring and the latest appliances’ etc.

Indignant rage is deservedly dished out to all forms of lazy, inappropriate, talentless guff whether it be a golden turd, bland copycat brick resi scheme or this museum piece.
#23 Posted by Cadmonkey on 14 Sep 2018 at 11:20 AM
Nairn’s Bairn, what tosh, are you seriously saying for example that the Scottish Parliament Building doesn't contribute positively to the architecture of the Royal Mile and it would have been better if it had been designed in the style of Hogwarts?
#24 Posted by AmusedBystander on 14 Sep 2018 at 11:54 AM
Cadmonkey, give it a break. Are you incapable of contributing meaningfully to this discussion without every comment either dripping in sarcasm or berating everyone else for daring not to agree with you?

Nairn's Bairn evidently didn't say that - you're putting words in their mouth. You make a fair point re: the Scottish Parliament but that is an exceptional building for a whole number of reasons. However, there are many more poor quality modern buildings on the Royal Mile and frankly, it doesn't need any more eroding the character of the place further. The modern building at Crichton's Close, the G&V hotel and probably, on balance, the Storytelling Centre are jarringly out of place and add absolutely nothing.

I do wonder how many of the commentators here actually live in Edinburgh and have to put up with these poor quality, modern replacements?

Yes, this modern building may be a pastiche, but given the choice between something which at least makes an effort to fit in with its surroundings or another soulless, identikit box which adds nothing of quality and sticks out like a sore thumb, (solely to satisfy a narrow 'modernity trumps everything' attitude), then developments like this should win every time.
#25 Posted by Disneyland on 14 Sep 2018 at 12:40 PM
#24 - Sorry for continuing this, but albeit sympathetic to your view, I am afraid there is a wee problem with your argument when it is put in such a pejorative binary way - architectural approach as either ill-fitting poor quality crap modernity vs. pastiche, whereas the problem is modernity doesn't have to be crap - take 3D's 50 Princes st e.g.
Of course, The other well-trodden corollary of the pastiche route is that you inevitably end up with Poundbury and the work of Quinlan Terry et al. 18th century buildings with lay-in suspended ceilings etc. where architecture is reduced to stage set design.
In the pastiche world of Disney, the whole philosophy of aesthetics and the artful poetry of Architecture as construction is reduced to nought. - just like that. Nah - don't fancy it. Seems such a pointless pursuit to me.
No doubt this'll continue before it disappears aff the page.
Nairn's Bairn
#26 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 14 Sep 2018 at 12:45 PM
#23 Cadmonkey - I don't think I said that. Are you not being a little bit silly?

The Scottish Parliament, while just within the WHS boundary and the Old Town Conservation Area, stands on its own site and replaced the dull Scottish & Newcastle offices. It’s certainly the less characterful end of the Royal Mile – photo opportunities are limited, and tourists scarce. The context is a little different, and the brief called for something iconic – a recognisable representation of the new Scottish Government. Whether the resulting effort achieved that divides opinion (presumably you’re a fan), but whatever one thinks, down there it intrudes less on the historical centre.

If you were to insert those finishes and shapes, or anything like it, into this gap site there would be a detrimental impact in the streetscape. I know it’s deeply uncool to say so, but in this situation give me Ian Begg’s Radisson over Allan Murray’s Missoni any day. Call the Royal Mile a theme park if you like – perhaps that’s exactly what it is. And it’s a successful one too. There’s more going on here than what architects deem authentic (though obviously that’s of paramount importance).

#27 Posted by rankbadyin on 14 Sep 2018 at 13:20 PM
Amusing to witness so many on here rubbing their hands together in rabid glee at being able to trot out the weary mantra of PASTICHE! PASTICHE! like the baying Salem mob.

Your boresome predictability when it comes to anything that doesn't meet your dogmatic modernist theology is exhausting to witness.
Nairn's Bairn
#28 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 14 Sep 2018 at 13:29 PM
#23 Cadmonkey – Having said the above, you might actually have some sort of a point.

The Scottish Parliament comes across best from the air. To the pavement-bound citizen, the building, with its bleak concrete façade, disjointed silhouette, bolted-on bamboo features and shopping centre entrance canopy offers little to enjoy. At best it’s ‘challenging’, at worst it looks like a part-finished Romanian housing block.

Put ‘Edinburgh’ into Google Images and you’ll get pages and pages of a variety of streets and views from all over the city, but no Parliament. There’s a reason for this - it’s an unphotogenic brute of a thing.

Thinking about it, Hogwarts might have been pretty cool.

#29 Posted by Disneyland on 14 Sep 2018 at 14:20 PM
Dear Rankbadyin,
Actually, it is more artifice than pastiche, but didn't want to say.
Are you sure you meant theology?
#30 Posted by Kyle on 14 Sep 2018 at 16:37 PM
I think pastiche has its place. Look at Warsaw and other European cities ravaged by WW2 where historic buildings were painstakingly recreated. The Royal Mile is still dominated by old buildings with a prevailing style and I think having infill developments fit with this style makes sense.

For streets like Princes Street, where the historic character has essentially been lost, I think a bolder approach is warranted.
#31 Posted by alibi on 16 Sep 2018 at 18:28 PM
I hope we can at least all agree its an interesting discussion. I'm certainly not saying this was the best thing that could have been achieved on this site, clearly that's not the case. But it was vacant for decades and its infilling in that context has to be a good news story. There are so many awful buildings going up to which our ire would best be reserved for, IMO.
Walt Disney
#32 Posted by Walt Disney on 17 Sep 2018 at 13:27 PM
Its an interesting direction for Edinburgh City Council to go. It looks like keech, but it looks exactly like the Georgian keech it replaced...ergo, it must therefore not be keech, but old and therefore worthy of a planning consent. I feel sorry for JM.

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