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Adjaye and BIG shortlisted for £25m Edinburgh visitor centre

West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
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Adjaye Associates and Bjarke Ingels Group are among seven teams battling it out for a new £25 million visitor centre and performance space in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

The two practices from the UK and Denmark are up against Norway’s Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter, Los Angeles-based wHY and Flanagan Lawrence from London in the Ross Development Trust-backed contest, which received 125 entries.

Page\Park Architects of Glasgow and a collaboration between Shard architect William Matthews and Japan’s Sou Fujimoto complete the shortlist.

The contest, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, sought 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. Improvements to the surrounding park will also be delivered. The project is planned to start on site next year.

Ross Development Trust chair Norman Springford said: ‘We were absolutely delighted by the response of designers from around the world to the competition’s first stage. The quality of the 125 teams on the longlist sent a strong signal that the international design community regards this as an inspirational project for Edinburgh that has huge potential to reinvigorate this prestigious site.

‘Selecting the shortlist with our partners from City of Edinburgh Council was an intense and demanding process. We’re thrilled that our final shortlist achieved a balance of both international and UK talent, emerging and established studios. Now the teams will have 11 weeks to do their concept designs – and we’re looking forward to seeing these and sharing them with the public.’

Competition director Malcolm Reading said: ‘This is an exceptional project – the interest from the website audience and the number of enquiries we received was far out of the ordinary. We appreciated the care and hard work that had gone into the submissions – to those who are disappointed not to make the shortlist, take heart: overall, the standard was very strong.’

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 sunken 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 EJ Macrae in 1935 and is named after Distillers Company chairman 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.

The seven finalist teams now have until 9 June to draw up conceptual designs for the new pavilion. The competing schemes will feature in an online and public exhibition later the same month with an overall winner set to be announced in early August.

Judges include Springford, Reading, the writer Alexander McCall Smith, Ada Yvars Bravo of MYAA Architects, former V&A and National Museums of Scotland director Mark Jones, and Riccardo Marini of Gehl Architects.

The full shortlist

  • Adjaye Associates (UK)
  • BIG Bjarke Ingels Group (Denmark)
  • Flanagan Lawrence (UK)
  • Page\Park Architects (UK)
  • Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter (Norway)
  • wHY (USA)
  • William Matthews Associates (UK) and Sou Fujimoto Architects (Japan)

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 3,000 (and up to 8,000 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 £25 million 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.

Are there other design opportunities on the horizon?

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.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think your headline sums up the current AJ and the pornographic fascination with star f###ing . Big names( no pun intend) , but hey there were two other UK architects named further down. I may be in the minority here, but the big names leave me cold. Page and Park produce real contextual architecture however, not monuments to their egos, which may be said of the other architects. I know its a headline, but please treat your readership with the intelligence they deserve.

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