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Business School, University of Edinburgh: retrofit by LDN Architects

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University retrofit: LDN Architects updated a listed 1960s building to meet the needs of a modern business school, writes Felix Mara

The Adam Ferguson Building, designed by Robert Matthews of RMJM in 1964, presents a now-familiar Modernist conundrum. It is part of a comprehensive development that swept aside three faces of Edinburgh’s George Square in the name of progress, and replaced them with Modernist buildings.

But these now form a group of Grade A-listed1 1960s buildings, of which the Adam Ferguson Building is B-listed. To add to this quandary, although the foundations of its design were logical planning, high performance and rational construction, it was eventually found wanting by these selfsame standards. Its fabric deteriorated with age, while statutory requirements for energy conservation, accessibility and study environment expectations became more demanding.

The University of Edinburgh Business School’s decision to relocate the teaching of its MBA and executive MSc courses to the Adam Ferguson Building led to the transformation of the former humanities school by LDN Architects, culminating with its re-opening in August 2010. It was an opportunity to upgrade and conserve the building, while also providing improved circulation, additional accommodation and an image makeover. ‘The electrical services were obsolete, the external fabric was falling apart and the internal layout was confusing and institutional,’ says LDN partner Dermot Patterson.

Although Adam Ferguson had an extremely orderly parti, with shallow perimeter space arranged around a central spine comprising two parallel rows of structure flanking services and circulation, it was poorly suited to the needs of modern university accommodation. The Business School needed a large lecture theatre, a generous concourse, breakout and entrance spaces, clear circulation routes and more floor space than Matthews’ original building could offer.

These requirements were achieved by attaching a three-storey pavilion to the south, and building an additional storey of accommodation on the existing roof. LDN carved a central glass-roofed lightwell out of the existing building, which visually connects its floors and draws air upwards from the opening windows of the open-plan space, to the BMS-operated vents and fixed louvres in the rooftop.

Improved natural ventilation helped overcome the effects of overheating caused by the narrow floorplates and continuous horizontal bands of windows, both of which provide ample daylight. These horizontal bands, which have in another context been melodramatically likened to razor slashes on the vertical grain of traditional terraces, are both the building’s most distinctive feature and its flaw, in that they restrict internal planning. Although unmistakably International Style motifs, they are tempered by the use of relatively indigenous York stone, though not Craigleith sandstone, rather than render, to clad the spandrels.


The utile hardwood of the original window frames was in an appalling state. Following their removal, the same timber was used in the new frames, which were made deeper to accommodate double-glazing. While the originals had darkened with age, the new wood stands out more against the glass but less against the spandrels, making the continuous horizontal strip effect less pronounced. The horizontal shadow gaps at each spandrel junction were retained, the existing aluminium sills refurbished, and window head recesses added to provide trickle ventilation.

The new fourth floor has no internal supports, with a steel portal frame structure resting on existing perimeter in situ concrete columns. Its warm roof, with single ply membrane, has a steel deck supported by purlins, inclined to provide falls. Perimeter spaces have low-level horizontally pivoting lights and high-level ceiling extract grilles with BMS-operated vents that draw natural air into parapets with fixed horizontal louvres, while graded fritting to the uncapped perimeter glazing reduces glare. A new lift, wireless data systems, and American walnut doors and frames have also been installed.

The new pavilion extension is also clad with fritted uncapped glazing, but with wider mullions that span further and a vertical aluminium brise soleil to reduce glare. Its frame comprises steel SHS columns supported by mini-piles, composite internal floors and steel roof trusses. The pavilion houses a café, generous concourse and a main lecture theatre, with a processional staircase that connects the lower ground floor entrance to the double-height concourse and the gallery leading to the back of the main lecture theatre. So there is now a long, wide strip of space leading from the entrance lobby on the north side, which Matthews inconveniently positioned at the top of a flight of steps, to the south facade of the new pavilion. The processional stair and lift connect this to the enlarged and improved accommodation at lower ground floor level, where glass-roofed corridors provide level access to Buccleuch Place.

The building is part of a 15-year programme of work around George Square, a domino effect of the decision to relocate the university’s medical department outside central Edinburgh. At a time of increasing pressure on university funding, retrofit made financial sense and, although the construction cost of £1,734 per square metre cannot be considered in isolation from the acquisition costs of the Adam Ferguson Building, the University of Edinburgh Business School benefited by harnessing its inherent qualities. Matthews would applaud the way his creation has, in turn, been given an extended life, rationalised and brought up to date with modern needs.



1.     Grade A, B and C are Historic Scotland listing categories


Start on site November 2008
Length of contract 19 months
Form of contract SBCC standard building contract with quantities (SBC/Q/SCOT)
Gross internal floor area 6,820m2
Total cost £11,830,814 (includes £477,000 asbestos removal)
Cost per square metre £1,734
Client University of Edinburgh
Architect LDN Architects
Structural engineer Sinclair Knight Merz
M&E consultant Buro Happold
Quantity surveyor  KLM Partnership
Project manager University in-house project manager
Main contractor Interserve Building
CDM coordinator LDN Architects
Estimated annual CO2 emissions Not confirmed
Curtain wall to new storey at level 4 Schüco FW50 + SG with low-level opening lights and sealant bonded main panels with horizontal glazed eaves
Curtain wall to new pavilion Schüco FW60 with ceramic frit pattern to glass
Aluminium vertical sunshades to pavilion Levolux
Warm roofs Sarna single ply membrane with natural ventilation-actuated louvres in steel framed upstands
Secondary beams to existing building Precast concrete with concrete block infill
Doors and frames American walnut
Pavilion structure 150 x 150mm steel columns on mini-piles with steel roof trusses
Pavilion ground floor Ground-bearing concrete slab over insulation

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