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Chipperfield’s Edinburgh concert hall faces late legal challenge

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Plans for a £45 million David Chipperfield-designed concert hall in Edinburgh have hit a potential snag after a rival developer launched an eleventh-hour legal challenge

The new home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which received planning permission in April, would be Edinburgh’s first purpose-built concert hall to be built in 100 years.

The proposal would hold a 1,000-seat auditorium, 200-seat studio, large foyer for informal performance and a café.

But now Nuveen Real Estate (formerly TH Real Estate) has petitioned the Court of Session for a judicial review of the planning permission granted by Edinburgh Council, objecting in particular to the concert hall’s height, scale and mass. Nuveen has made a series of failed attempts to block the scheme and this appears to be the last opportunity left to them.

Nuveen, which is behind the nearby Edinburgh St James development, argues that the concert hall will damage the Edinburgh skyline and World Heritage Site. St James is a £1 billion city-centre scheme, masterplanned by Allan Murray Architects and due to open next year, that involves 79,000m² of retail and leisure facilities and a hotel that locals have termed ‘the golden turd’.

The concert hall would sit behind Dundas House, the 1774 home of landowner and politician Lawrence Dundas, which is seen as an architectural jewel in central Edinburgh. Last year the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland objected to the plans, arguing that the building would ‘tower over’ Dundas House. 

A council spokesperson said: ’We are aware of the legal challenge and are taking legal advice in this regard.’

It is expected that the court will take between one and two months to decide on the legal challenge. The existing building on the concert hall site was due to be demolished at the turn of the year with construction slated to begin later next year. It is unclear how the legal challenge, even if it is dismissed, will affect that timeline.

Martin Perry, director of development at Edinburgh St James, said the firm supported a new concert hall in Edinburgh but objected to the current design. He said: ‘[It] should be designed to truly respect the setting of Dundas House and reflect both the wider masterplan which was agreed in response to 2007 planning policy, and Edinburgh City’s skyline policy.’

He added: ‘We have raised objections to particular elements of the proposal including the height, scale, and mass, as we would hope to see far more attention placed on ensuring a development situated in the heart of this beautiful World Heritage City befits its surroundings,’ Perry said.

But Ewan Brown, chair of Impact Scotland, which is responsible for the construction of the concert hall, hit back: ’It is extremely disappointing that the St James’ hotel investors and developers are continuing to try and frustrate the creation of Edinburgh’s first purpose-built music venue in over 100 years and the cultural flagship project of the City Region Deal.

It is particularly disheartening considering the public support for the project

’It is particularly disheartening considering the public support for the project and the goodwill and philanthropy behind creating this world-class venue for all of Edinburgh and the wider region.’

Terry Levinthal, director of Edinburgh’s Cockburn Association heritage body, accepted that a new concert hall on this particular site created design challenges, adding: ‘But the benefits to the city are significant and the simple but elegant design by David Chipperfield will provide a less disruptive backdrop to Dundas House, one of the city’s finer buildings, than the rather intrusive hotel proposal which forms part of the St James development.’

The Association had spoken in support of the application at the planning committee hearing into the scheme although it did note that ’a number of areas were still to be resolved including the floorscape of the exterior spaces,’ Levinthal added.

The concert hall in St Andrews Square is intended to create a dynamic new city space linking the New Town with the St James redevelopment, Multrees Walk and the Register Lanes area.

In April the City Council’s planning committee narrowly approved the proposal.

During the meeting, David Chipperfield was forced to defend the proposed used of concrete, the 10,000m² scheme’s impact on its surroundings and why the service bay for lorries was not positioned underground.

‘One neighbour [to this scheme] said that concrete was concrete, which sounds like Brexit is Brexit. But all concrete isn’t concrete, nor is Brexit [simply] Brexit,’ Chipperfield said.

He added: ‘The pejorative attitude people have towards concrete, and quite rightly, comes from the engineering concrete from the 1960s, which stains when it rains. But we’ve been working with concrete for the last 20 to 30 years.’

 The AJ has contacted David Chipperfield Architects for comment.

David chipperfield architects impact edinburgh approved april 2019 dca (1)

David Chipperfield Architects’ proposed new home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh - designs as approved April 2019

Source: DCA

David Chipperfield Architects’ proposed new home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh - designs as approved April 2019

Project data

Competition 2017
Original completion due 2021
Client Impact Scotland
Architect David Chipperfield Architects
Project director Alasdair Graham
Project architect Johannes Feder
Team Freddie Armitage, Matt Ball, Nick Beissengroll, Micha Gamper, Jochen Glemser, Sofia Gozzi, Christopher Harvey, Rory Hughes, Daniel Itten, Craig Johnston, Antonio Mazzolai, Matthias Odazzi, Charlie Proctor, Simonpietro Salini, Jana Schwalb
Executive architect Reiach and Hall Architects
Landscape architect GROSS.MAX
Structural engineer Whitby Wood
Services engineer Arup
Lighting consultant Arup
Façade consultant Thornton Tomasetti
Acoustic consultant Nagata Acoustics (hall and studio), Arup (venue)
Fire protection Atelier Ten
Quantity surveyor Turner & Townsend
Project management Turner & Townsend
Gross floor area 10,000m²

Plan chipperfield impact

Plan chipperfield impact

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Nero fiddles while Rome burns - it's the new hotel that needs stopping, not the new concert hall; I very much doubt that it's just the locals that refer to it as the 'golden turd', though it's also called the 'walnut whip'.
    That the promoters of crap / bling should so strenuously object to the concert hall is grotesque in the extreme, but then the city council's decision to grant planning approval for the turd is - if anything - even more grotesque.

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  • I totally agree with Robert Wakeham. For THRE, now Nuveen, to object to Chipperfield's plan is beyond irony. But then so are most things these days.

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