The Athens of the North

With the future of Edinburgh’s foremost neo-classical building up for grabs, and a choice between two competing visions the heart of the ‘Athens of the North’ has emerged.

The current proposal going before Edinburgh City Council would see the Old Royal High School become a ‘six star’ luxury hotel, backed by Chinese investors and with two six-storey wings for its 300 guests built on the historic Calton Hill.

An emerging alternative is for the building to become the new home of St Mary’s Music School, where the country and the city’s most gifted young musicians will learn, practise, and perform. That scheme could see a new foyer at the back of the building.

City councillors, and potentially the nationalist Scottish Government, face an interesting decision on where their priorities lie – and between two powerful lobbies, with particular kinds of influence and clout.

The hotel scheme is backed by the Asian investment that has been so assiduously courted in the UK, and with developers touting benefits in tourism and job. The music school idea is rather more attuned to the architecture and history of the capital of the Scottish Enlightenment, and has the at least the promise of financing from probably the biggest single philanthropic funder of Scotland and Edinburgh’s galleries, orchestras and festivals.

I am aiming to post here some of the arguments that have emerged in the debate over the future of the building and planning decisions in Edinburgh more generally. Please contact me if you would like to add your voice…

The First Edinburgh Festival

The First Edinburgh Festival

“For some time previous to the Festival, the concourse of strangers towards Edinburgh was unexampled.”   The year was 1815. “From England, and the remotest parts of Scotland, individuals and whole families poured into the city.   Every house and every room that could be obtained was occupied by persons of all ranks and ages…” […]

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Background and links

You can read John McLellan’s latest column on the row in The Scotsman website here. The Scotsman’s report on new designs unveiled by the hotel backers on September 2 are here. The developer’s website with some 2,500 pages including all the documents seeking planning permission is here. The BBC’s report on the  trust’s offer (see below) to buy and run […]

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Activists target 300 objections over Edinburgh’s Old Royal High School as October 2nd deadline looms

Developers intending to covert Edinburgh’s foremost neo-classical building into a luxury hotel “completely ignored” the advice of the watchdog body charged with overseeing the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is claimed. The director of Edinburgh World Heritage, Adam Wilkinson, told a public meeting held to help corral objections to the scheme that […]

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Royal High School – Alistair Rowan – 23/02/15

Alistair Rowan lives in Dublin (where the city tram system is a great success, was delivered on time and within budget). He has spent 25 years of his life in Edinburgh, first as a student in the School of Architecture in the College of Art; later as a lecturer in Fine Art in Edinburgh University […]

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Royal High School – meeting of 24/02

The Old Royal High School, Edinburgh Public Discussion organised by the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland 23rd February 2015 Presentation by Professor David Walker OBE, former Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings at Historic Scotland. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish architecture and his research and papers formed the basis of the Dictionary of Scottish […]

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The Athens of the North

The Athens of the North

In the nomination dossier for Edinburgh to join the list of UNESCO world heritage sites, the Old Royal High School was described as ‘The noblest monument of the Scottish Revival: and perhaps the single building which most justified Edinburgh’s epithet Athens of the North’. Here is one image of what it will look like if […]

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