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Fraser rubbishes Scottish Poetry Library revamp

A war of words has broken out over future plans for the acclaimed Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) in Edinburgh Old Town

The library’s original architect, Edinburgh-based Malcolm Fraser who completed his scheme in 1999, had been working with the SPL’s board on a proposed overhaul which included boosting space for books by 80 per cent, a new meeting room and a more ‘welcoming and flexible central space’.

But Fraser parted ways with the client just before Christmas, with Nicoll Russell Studios (NRS) taking over the project. The Dundee-based practice has drawn up an alternative scheme - plans which Fraser described as ‘muddled’ and ‘fine for a corner shop’.

Under the NRS proposal (pictured) the library’s outside area will be replaced by an extension, resulting in the loss of a reading courtyard and a stone staircase that leads to a lectern for outdoor readings (pictured).

Fraser, who has urged people to look at the plans and to send comments to the Edingburgh council, told The Scotsman that the new plans were ‘banal’ and ‘…not nearly good enough for a significant cultural institution in the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, and no justification for the loss of the forestair and courtyard reading area.’

But NRS partner Doug Binnie told the AJ: ‘Malcolm Fraser is entitled to his opinion and I respect him and his building but I do not want to get into mudslinging’.

‘Our design does respect the original architecture,’ said Binnie. ‘There has been a determined effort to harmonise with the existing detailing through materials and finishes. Where there was timber we have used timber and where there are blue glazed bicks we have used blue glazed bricks,’ he said.

‘But after 14 years there are bits that outlived their usefulness. For examnple there is no mobile library service anymore so the garage is not needed.”

And defending plans to ditch the external staircase Binnie said: ‘It just wasn’t used. The Scottish climate does not permit people to sit outside and read poetry and we need the space to increase the footprint to create the new extension.’

Malcolm Fraser's Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh

Malcolm Fraser’s Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh (1999)

Readers' comments (3)

  • Kieran Gaffney

    I think the loss of the stairs is a crime, they are a fantastic piece of generous urban design to be replaced with a kind of bland golf-club-exclusive-balcony. Rest of the design is dull and not good enough.

    This is one of Scotland's top 10 buildings it should be treated with much more respect.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • I'd like to know why Fraser and the client 'parted ways'.
    If the SPL really has outgrown this fine building maybe the ideal would be for it to be sold to someone who'd give it more respect, and for NRS to design a new building - which would hopefully be less of a dog's breakfast than their current proposal, and would better reflect their undoubted design skills.

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  • Robert, I'd presented two proposals, one which met and exceeded the brief and, I advised, would enhance the building hugely, and one, designed to their Chair's instruction, which I advised would ruin it. They told me to proceed with the latter, I told them I couldn't, they dismissed me.
    Regarding your point about organistaions moving on if they have outgrown: I agree - except in this case the building is more than capable of joyful enlargement.
    There is no need for any of this.

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