Edinburgh Part 3 – Is it too late to remove the twirly bit?

“Irreversible change to the skyline has the potential to compromise the integrity of the site” is a key point to how any new development in a World Heritage Site is approved.

In my two earlier blogs I discussed how brilliant I believe Edinburgh is including some examples of what I felt were great developments. I also discussed how Edinburgh’s own World Heritage status meant that any new development had to be of the highest standard. Recently there has been some controversy surrounding where some felt Edinburgh was headed with their choice of developments including the St James Centre project.

I can understand those points of view that wish all of Edinburgh could remain exactly preserved as it was with the old and new towns’ style of architecture. And I sympathise with their negative perspective when much more modern buildings have been juxtaposed with the older and more traditional ones. Personally though I enjoy and welcome the challenge of how the modern and the historical can be brought together – so long as it is considered and aesthetically still works. Mostly I believe the Edinburgh St James project is a good one but for me it does have one flaw

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In their planning application the Edinburgh St James architects said the coiled ribbon would evoke the “festival spirit of Edinburgh” and the “fabric forms of high fashion” for which this area is planned to become known for in the future. “The ribbon emerges from the retail levels below in a flourish that initially unruly, settles on a building form until at the uppermost levels it ‘unravels’ and crescendos into a contemporary elegant spire like form soaring above roof level.” The rational sounds relevant and inspiring and at this scale in this architectural visualisation the flourish looks bold and graphic however I’m less certain what the actual scale will do to it; I can’t help but think that at actual size it may look a bit awkward. I also think that from some angles and perspectives it will often be seen in bits, which will separate it visually from the architect’s conceptual vision.

Maybe it’s just me?

Apart from this to create a new and exciting retail destination is what Edinburgh deserves and certainly Edinburgh St James overall is a vast improvement to what the previous St James Centre was; often cited as one of Scotland’s, if not the UK’s, worst looking buildings. It will solidify the ground laid by Harvey Nichols, “The Walk” development and in John Lewis upgrading itself. The planned new entrance and the public glass roofed concourse look bright and atmospheric and it’s great to see a collection of organisations being created to develop this site and I hope this development delivers everything its stakeholders are planning.

Going forward what are the future possibilities for architectural excellence and innovation for Edinburgh? What beautiful and inspiring developments can be created? I know there has been criticism of where things are headed and I share this concern but I can look at what Quartermile, Waverley Gate and the proposed plans for Princes Street Gardens and say that there are examples of sensitivity and consideration that are very hopeful.

Edinburgh remains my favourite city in the world and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.



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