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Hoskins reveals contentious hotel plans for empty Edinburgh landmark

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Gareth Hoskins Architects has finally unveiled plans to convert one of Edinburgh’s most sensitive landmarks, the historic Royal High School on Calton Hill, into a 160-room luxury hotel

The practice won the project to redevelop Thomas Hamilton’s grade A-category Classical building, described as Scotland’s ‘greatest Neoclassical monument’, five years ago (see AJ 03.02.10).

However the new £55million proposals for the 1829 masterpiece, which are backed by developers Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Group and which are to go on public dispaly today (6 February), have already met with opposition.

Adam Wilkinson, director of and Edinburgh World Heritage, said: ‘The proposed scheme is a complete over-development of the site. It will not only affect the building, but the whole hill - which is a talismanic site in many ways.’

‘It is not beyond the wit of man to do something less intense. In that sense it is not the architects’ fault - it is the developers’ requirements and the quantum of development which is the issue.’

We’re concerned our advice hasn’t been taken on board

He added: ‘We have spent endless hours with them on this - but all the engagement in the world hasn’t produced the result that is right for the building or the city. We are deeply concerned our advice hasn’t been taken on board.’

Meanwhile Euan Leitch, a spokesman for of Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said: ‘Neither Duddingston House Properties nor the Urbanist Group appear to have experience in developing world class hotels - is the former Royal High School a building to take such a risk with?’

Leitch added: ‘It [also] reflects ill on the City of Edinburgh Council that they have so long neglected a building that embodies the aesthetics of the Scottish Enlightenment to the extent that it has been on the Buildings at Risk Register for three years.

‘[The Hoskins scheme] will be presented as the only means to secure the future of the building and yet there were 50 parties interested in 2009 - were they more sensitive to a national icon?”

Defending the project David Orr from the Urbanist Group and co-founder of City Inn Hotels [now Mint Hotels] said the project team had ‘spent a lot of time consulting with interested parties as part of the ongoing development process’.

He added: ‘At the heart of our proposal is the restoration of Hamilton’s building to its former prominence as one of Edinburgh’s architectural crown jewels. 

The plans will be honed during the consultation process

‘As we develop our proposals we want to be sure the public have their chance to appreciate how Hamilton’s building and vision has been compromised by later buildings on site.

‘[The] new plans will give this extremely important building a sustainable future along with wider benefits to the city and the Calton Hill area.’

Orr conluded: ‘The team working on the building restoration and hotel design are taking great care to consult all relevant expert opinion before developing a final plan. They have been in discussion with key groups, including all the main heritage bodies, since last June and this input has already influenced the emerging specification which will be honed further during the consultation process.’


Gareth Hoskins of Gareth Hoskins Architects:
‘The old Royal High School is in an extremely poor condition and it is vital that restoration takes place as soon as possible.  We are working with respected conservation architect Andrew Wright to inform our design and ensure the proposals retain and restore the original building as the focal building on the site. 

‘As part of the proposals, the public will have access to the spaces in Hamilton’s original masterpiece, for the first time in newly restored and created public space.  The new buildings on the site will be distinct from, and set away from, the original building in a planned arrangement that allows it to retain its presence and prominence on the site.’

The old Royal High School will be open for the public consultation from 12pm until 7pm on 6 February and from 11am – 5pm on Saturday 7 February.  An exhibition of the further developed proposals is scheduled for 5 and 6 March 2015 from 12pm – 7pm at the old Royal High School prior to an application being submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council for planning consent at a later date.

Royal High School, Edinburgh

Royal High School, Edinburgh

Previous story (AJ 03.02.10)

Hoskins scoops ‘super sensitive’ Edinburgh hotel scheme

Gareth Hoskins has won the competition to redevelop one of Edinburgh’s most sensitive landmarks, the historic Royal High School on Calton Hill

Hoskins’ £35 million scheme for the landmark will transform the A-listed Classical building, which the council claims has been on a ‘sabbatical for 40 years’, into an ‘Arts Hotel’ with restaurant, café and public arts gallery.

Speaking to the AJ shortly after hearing about his victory, Hoskins said he was ‘very chuffed’.

The scheme for Duddingston House Properties will feature a ‘sensitive’ treatment of the central span with new build elements introduced on the site’s fringes.

The award winning designer, who is also working on Donald Trump’s mega golf-course in Aberdeenshire, added: ‘We’ve been in a lot of consultation with conservation bodies.

‘[However, we were] probably deemed to be the more controversial in planning terms.’

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage said: ‘The plans to reinvigorate the Royal High School are certainly most welcome.’

‘The Royal High School is one of Edinburgh’s most magnificent buildings, vital to Edinburgh’s epithet of ‘Athens of the North [and] has wider significance as part of the collection of monuments of national importance on Calton Hill and is an essential element of the World Heritage Site’.

Wilkinson thinks the project will ‘present many challenges and of course demand sensitivity, intelligence and beauty’ but will finally secure ‘a proper future for the building is also enormously important’.

Hoskins saw off competition from the likes of Richard Murphy and LDN Architects to win the commission.


The Royal High School has not been in public use since 1968. Built on Calton Hill in 1829 it is one of Edinburgh’s most imposing landmarks. A number of proposals for the school have fallen by the wayside including plans to move the Scottish Assembly into the building in the 1970s and a more recent scheme for a £20 million National Photography Centre, which was abandoned last year.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The building is impressive and it’s great that it could be brought back into use but I would not underestimate the challenges ahead in converting such a significant, neo classical monument as Hamilton’s Old Royal High into a hotel. The program is in many ways incompatible and the plan of the Grade A building seems resistant to such a conversion and judging by the supporting comments it look like the hotel accommodation will sit separately from the main building. I wish Hoskins luck but it won’t be easy. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to assess the real merits of the proposal as it stands from the very general and non-descript cgi image and loose concept sketches provided. I would hope that is not intentional by the developer
    and that much more detailed information is made available soon.

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