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Global contest launched for new £25m Edinburgh visitor centre

West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
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The Ross Development Trust is holding an international competition for a £25 million visitor centre and café in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

The contest, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, seeks an ‘outstanding team’ to deliver a landmark new venue, to be called the Ross Pavilion, on a prominent site beneath Edinburgh Castle within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage zone.

The pavilion will replace the existing 1935 Ross Bandstand (pictured), which hosts the city’s Hogmanay celebrations and the Edinburgh International Festival’s closing fireworks concert but has fallen into disrepair in recent years. Subtle improvements to the surrounding historic park will also be required. The project is planned to start on site next year.

Ross Development Trust chair Norman Springford said: ‘This is a project for one of the most important places in Scotland and we want it to communicate the very essence of Edinburgh: a dynamic city with an unrivalled arts and cultural pedigree; a city that’s forward-looking while tuned into its history. We would like the pavilion to have an original design of international quality and significance that says “Edinburgh”.

‘Designers will need to be sensitive to context and historic setting, the castle being a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and the gardens having botanical, commemorative and civic interest. But the design for the new pavilion and the wider project must also communicate Edinburgh’s creative energies and international profile.’

The 12ha West Princes Street Gardens was created in the early 19th century by the draining of the historic Nor Loch during the construction of Edinburgh New Town. The city-centre park  is situated beneath Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street and the Scottish National Gallery, and is home to many landmark features including the churches of St John’s and St Cuthbert’s.

The 2,400-capacity Ross Bandstand was designed by city architect E J Macrae in 1935 and is named after Distillers Company chair William Henry Ross who originally donated the open-air theatre to the city. An earlier structure was erected on the site by Kinnear and Peddie in 1877 and the first records of performances in the area date back to 1853.

Although extended and modernised several times, the existing Ross Bandstand is now only occasionally opened to the public. A previous contest to regenerate the structure was launched 10 years ago but abandoned due to a lack of money. The latest project is backed by public and private funds.

Competition director Malcolm Reading said: ‘This is a site with strategic position, a rich and varied topography, not to mention a 900-year-old castle on hand. A pavilion offers designers one of the ultimate creative tests: the potential to create a world-within-a-world.

‘The competition will create not only a civic emblem but also a living entity, a much-needed platform at the heart of the city, for national and local events, to re-energise this valued green space.’

Participating architect-led teams must hold expertise in landscape design, engineering, heritage, planning, lighting design, theatre design, acoustics and accessibility. Applicants must complete an online form detailing their proposed team and previous experience during the competition’s first round.

Up to five teams will then be invited to develop concept designs during the contest’s second stage starting in March. The finalists’ designs will feature in a public exhibition before the overall winner is announced in August.

The deadline for applications is 2pm, 13 March.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information

Contact details

Jayne Broomhall
Malcolm Reading Consultants
29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Email: rosspavilion@malcolmreading.co.uk
Tel: + 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Q&A: Norman Springford, jury chair and Ross Development Trust chair

Jury chair

Jury chair

Source: Image by David Springford

Norman Springford

What is your vision for the Ross Pavilion?

We’ve two aspirations for the Ross Pavilion. Firstly, it needs to provide an imaginative solution to cater for audience numbers from 200 to 3000 (and up to 8000 within the wider Gardens), and that will certainly be a challenge. Secondly, the design needs to reflect that Edinburgh, in addition to having a historic past, is also a creative, contemporary city. The building should be of an architectural quality that enhances that image, the design becoming internationally recognisable in the future. The new building will replace a 1935 open-air theatre which has served the city well, but is no longer fit for purpose. It is not just about the Ross Pavilion though. As part of the circa £25m project, the successful team will also consider how the Pavilion sits within an improved West Princes Street Gardens environment.

How will the pavilion relate to West Princes Street Gardens and its surrounding context?

It is vital that the new building recognises the environment in which it will be located – centrally placed in the UNESCO World Heritage site and linking the Old and New Town of Edinburgh. The green space and tranquillity of the Gardens allows the whole project to be very much ‘a place for people’, and will further Edinburgh’s ambition to promote culture and arts, and sit comfortably with other projects under development in the city, such as the recently announced Concert Hall.

What sort of architects, designers and artists are you hoping will apply?

We’ve been encouraged in the knowledge that Malcolm Reading Consultants have an exemplary record in attracting established international practices, but equally they provide opportunities for emerging talent to develop as part of larger teams – so we have no pre-conceived ideas of who will enter the competition. We’d certainly like to encourage both established and emerging talent, as well as collaborations.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects be procured?

The Ross Pavilion and Gardens redevelopment is the centrepiece of a number of projects within the Gardens, and as the project develops, we expect to hear other ideas and suggestions which could form a rolling programme of improvements, so yes, there are likely to be other opportunities during the timeframe of the Pavilion project.

Are there any other landmark pavilion projects you have been impressed by?

We’ve seen a number of different proposals, each one impressing us with the quality of their design. It would be unfair to single out any particular practice, and we just look forward to seeing our own project taking shape.


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