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Critics pan 'insensitive' Scottish Poetry Library revamp

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Architects have expressed dismay over Nicoll Russell Studios’ single-storey extension to the front of the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh

The practice was handed the job after Malcolm Fraser, who designed the original building, walked off the extension project following a disagreement with the client over the designs.

Construction work was recently completed on the £380,000 project to ’substantially increase the footprint on the library’ - as cheme which has also resulted in the loss of a reading courtyard and a stone staircase leading to a lectern for outdoor readings.

Kieran Gaffney, director at Konishi Gaffney Architects, told the AJ that the extension had ‘killed what was great about the original [namely] the stairs and their role in the transition between the public old town Vennel and the private building’.

He added that he was ‘saddened that a client who loves poetry would be so insensitive to the original and could find no other ways to add the space they needed’.

Architect Alan Dunlop said: ‘Before, the gallery for readings was open to the walkway and more directly accessible for the public. It was a lovely and considered touch which reached out to those just passing, who may not have had an interest in poetry, and made them curious to find out what was happening inside.

‘Now it has lost its openness and its layered and considered connection with the walkway, where you could linger on the external gallery steps. It now feels more like a standard shop-frontage.’

Joining the chorus of criticism, Marion Williams, director of Edinburgh’s Cockburn Society, said: ‘The extension has no empathy with the existing building. It hides the previous expressed steel structure and makes the columns appear to have sunk into the terrace.

‘The public space created in front of the building is lost, together with the ability to open and close the facade with oak shutters, a part of the original conceptual design and poetic qualities of the building.’

Fraser was reluctant to be drawn in to the debate again, but said: ‘It seems to me that [the library] has had its poetry and generous openness replaced with closed, dull prose.’

NRS and the client did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

However speaking when the controversial plans first emerged (AJ 13.02.14), Nicoll Russell Studios partner Doug Binnie told the AJ: ‘Our design [respects] the original architecture.

’There has been a determined effort to harmonise with the existing detailing through materials and finishes. Where there was timber we have used timber and where there are blue glazed bicks we have used blue glazed bricks.’

Defending plans to ditch the external staircase, Binnie said: ‘It just wasn’t used. The Scottish climate does not permit people to sit outside and read poetry, and we need the space to increase the footprint to create the new extension.’

Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh by Malcom fraser Architects - before being extended

Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh by Malcom fraser Architects - before being extended

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The building has lost its magic - Doug Binnie's justifications for the infill are unimpressive, to put it politely - however sympathetic the detailing - and sadly it's no real surprise that the Edinburgh city council approved such a blatant example of 'dumbing down'.

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