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Page\Park unveils refurbished St Cecilia’s Hall with new musical instrument museum

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St Cecilia’s Hall, Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall, has reopened, complete with a new home for the University of Edinburgh’s musical instrument collection

The redevelopment by Page\Park principally involved the conservation and repair of St Cecilia’s Hall, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Edinburgh Old Town.

The project has seen the full refurbishment of the concert room and expansion of existing gallery spaces, enabling the musical instrument collections of the University of Edinburgh to be brought together under one roof.

In addition, all support functions have been reconfigured within a new extension and accessibility improved.


Architect’s view 

We imagined St Cecilia’s Hall as an old instrument that was in need of a new mouthpiece. People, like air, move through the new mouthpiece entrance to breathe energy into the building. This stance informed all of the architectural moves that we made in our approach to the redevelopment of the existing Category A-listed building complex.

The context for this project was the desire by the University of Edinburgh to improve awareness, function and amenity of St Cecilia’s Hall as an appropriate home for their world-class collection of musical instruments.

Stceciliashall jimstephenson 38 midres

Stceciliashall jimstephenson 38 midres

Source: Jim Stephenson

St Cecilia’s Hall is a complex of three existing buildings dating from different periods: 1763, 1812 and 1959. The University of Edinburgh’s vision was to make it a centre for excellence for the display and preservation of their world-significant collection of musical instruments and to breathe new life into the gem at the centre – Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall.

The removal of the former caretaker’s flat to the north of the existing building complex unlocked the opportunity to create a new public entrance and to house all of the ancillary facilities required to run the contemporary museum and concert room. The new four-storey entrance building houses a double-height entrance reception and orientation space with office accommodation, internal plant room and a green room above. This new build element also comprises the relocated instrument and public lift and access stair.

In parallel, the existing building was carefully opened up to reveal a new journey through the instrument collection with vistas from foyers through galleries to the city beyond. Visitor orientation was to be intuitive, guided by the unravelling sequence of spaces. Glimpses are offered into gallery spaces through new glazed openings when in performance mode in the evenings.

We imagined St Cecilia’s Hall as an old instrument that was in need of a new mouthpiece

The architectural emblems of the instrument collection are provocative. As architects, we like to work by association, as architecture is not only the physical fabric but the ideas and thoughts that influence it. By extension, our embracing new L-shaped volume becomes imagined as an instrument, taking cues in form, texture and materiality from the qualities of the collection and rooting the building in its setting.

The highly decorated soundboard of the 1725 Francis Coston double-manual harpshichord provided the inspiration for the embellishment of the stainless bronze entrance façade to Niddry Street. The parrot and flower patterns of the harpsichord interior were also subtly embossed into the exposed concrete soffit of the entrance foyer and incised into the gilded ceilings in the support accommodation.

This significant cultural project aspired to enhance the existing building setting and musical instrument collection contained within the remarkable grouping of rooms off the Cowgate. It was a wonderful opportunity to create a sensitive yet bold new piece of civic architecture within the Old Town context for the University of Edinburgh.

Eilidh Henderson, depute of arts and culture, Page\Park Architects

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site July 2015
Completion March 2017
Gross internal floor area 1,345m²
Form of contract Traditional: SBC/Q/Scot (2011)
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Page\Park Architects
Client University of Edinburgh
Structural engineer David Narro Associates
M&E consultant Harley Haddow
Quantity surveyor Thomson Bethune
Acoustic consultant New Acoustics
Exhibition design Studio SP
Principal design consultant CDM Scotland
Project manager University of Edinburgh Estates Department
Approved building inspector Local authority building control department
Main contractor Interserve Construction
CAD software used Autodesk Revit

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