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Finally: wHY reveals rejigged Ross Pavilion plans two years after contest win

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US practice wHY has revealed its latest designs for a performance space in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens – two years after winning an international contest for the job

Drawn up with Edinburgh-based GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects and Arup, the £25 million scheme to revamp the gardens and replace the 1935 Ross Bandstand has gone out to public consultation this week (4 November).

The competition-winning designs for the prominent site beneath Edinburgh Castle, featuring a welcome centre, pavilion and amphitheatre, have been revised to take in early feedback from stakeholders.

The changes include: the removal of a proposed top level of the welcome centre and its overhang to reduce impact of the building on the landscape and improve sightlines; reduction of glass on the centre’s front elevation to ’minimise the impact’ when viewed from the castle; and alterations to the path network.

Now dubbed the Quaich Project, the scheme is a public-private partnership between the Ross Development Trust – a registered charity – and the City of Edinburgh Council. Preparatory work began on the project in 2015 and an outline vision for the overhaul of West Princes Street Gardens received unanimous full council approval in a year later.  

According to the trust, the 12 months after the contest winner was announced in summer 2017 was spent in negotiations with the council about the future operations and management of the new facilities, during which time the design work was put on hold. This work restarted in earnest at the end of 2018.

The competition brief had called for an ‘outstanding team’ to deliver a landmark venue plus improvements to the surrounding park within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Zone.  More than 125 teams entered the Malcolm Reading Consultants-organised contest.

The trust said its vision was to ‘reimagine this historic place as a space for all to celebrate and enjoy in new ways. with dynamic architectural designs and innovative facilities, all the time being respectful to the people, wildlife, landscape and heritage of Scotland’s capital’.

A spokesperson added: ’Like the traditional Scottish sharing cup from which it takes its name, The Quaich Project aims to bring people together to celebrate Edinburgh’s status as one the world’s most beautiful, welcoming and vibrant capitals – generating new connections both locally and internationally.’

The results of the month-long consultation will ’feed in to design amends’ with the final scheme scheduled to be unveiled in late February 2020. A planning application will be submitted later next year.

3 theatre before photo

The Ross Pavilion as it is today

The Ross Pavilion as it is today

Q&A: David Ellis, managing director of The Quaich Project

How has the design changed from the competition winning entry?
The design has certainly evolved since the competition, responding to feedback from consultees and stakeholders. This has been done without losing the overall look and feel of the design that impressed the judges and the public back in 2017.

Key changes that have been made to the Welcome Centre are focused on reducing its impact and we have looked to address this by removing the upper section, reducing the area that is glazed and looking at using the façade to retain the valley shape of the garden. We have also reduced the area of stone seating in the amphitheatre and introduced more grass to provide a better balance. We have made significant changes to the path network since the competition to reflect feedback on the importance of the lower east-west path, too.

Ross pavilion edinburgh why architects consultation nov 2019 (7)

Ross Pavilion [public consultation scheme, November 2019]: wHY Architecture with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup,

Ross Pavilion [public consultation scheme, November 2019]: wHY Architecture with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects and Arup,

One new area we are in the process of designing is the ‘family area’ and we’ve been working with organisations and groups that would potentially be users of this space to understand what they would like to see in it.

We have a concept level layout and design of that at the moment and we are looking to this consultation to receive feedback to progress it.

Why has it taken so long for the design to move forward?
Following the winning design being announced, we engaged with the City of Edinburgh Council on a key piece of work regarding future operations and management.

This work took a year during which time the design work was put on hold. Work began properly at the end of 2018 and the design team has been fully engaged since then to take this forward.

We want to have done everything to ensure the scheme is the best it can possibly be

It is however important to understand the sensitivities of this project. West Princes Street Gardens is one of the most important areas of public green space in Scotland and we are making sure we take the time to do what is necessary. When our design is in a position to be submitted to the planning authority we want to have confidence that we have done everything within our power to ensure it is the best it can possibly be.

On a project of this significance, that means taking a little extra time and making sure we have consulted absolutely everyone we need to. We are, however, working as fast as we can to do that.

Are there any future challenges that the project is facing?
There is strong political support for the project. The gardens have been in need of investment for decades and we are offering a solution to help the city achieve that.

The council unanimously approved this project back in 2016 and has continued to be very supporting since. As with any project there are of course challenges. The sensitivity around the site itself probably causes the biggest challenge. The public ownership of the space and the fact it sits right in the heart of the city centre means that the number of stakeholders and interested parties is extremely high.

This means we need to speak to a large amount of people and ensure our engagement strategy is on point, which inevitably takes time and slows the pace of the design process down slightly. However, we don’t see this as a negative at all. It is fantastic that the gardens mean so much to so many people. It’s exactly why we are doing the project in the first place.

Did you ever wonder whether that the scheme would happen at all?
We’ve taken a step-by-step approach on this project from the outset. In 2015 when we first started thinking about the possibility of improvements to the gardens it did seem like a huge challenge.

However, we put a plan in place to achieve it and we have been carefully working through that since that time. To date we have; funded a charity to take the plans forward; written a brief in combination with the city and some of the key heritage stakeholders; launched and run an international design competition, developed a design from concept towards a planning application; launched an international fundraising campaign to raise the necessary funds to deliver the improvements as well as hundreds of meetings/workshops/presentations with individuals/community organisations and key stakeholders to listen to how they feel the project should progress.

In that time we also restored a 145-year-old fountain in the gardens, which was on the brink of collapse. The next key step for us is ensuring our proposals are in the best shape they can possibly be when submitted to the planning authority next year.

Will the trust make any money?
Absolutely not. Ross Development Trust will host a number of fundraising events which will generate income, but 100 per cent of that income will go into delivering the project. We are a charitable organisation and rely solely on donations. Our constitution also states that board members cannot receive any remuneration. The purpose of this project is to create a wonderful garden for the city to enjoy, not to make money.

Given the Climate Emergency, how is the scheme tackling the environmental agenda?
Our team has identified sustainability as a driver in our design, seeking to minimise environmental impact, maximise economic and social benefits, and efficient consumption of natural resources.

We’ve appointed a BREEAM consultant and carried out initial concept review, following which we are aiming for a rating of ‘very good’.

We have explored the configuration and form of the buildings to ensure the design respects and responds to the special and unique challenges presented by the location. Our ambition was to develop a design solution which not only met the requirement of the competition brief, but also responded to all the complex challenges in a sustainable way. The pavilion and gardens project will create a truly sustainable project that enhances the usability of the gardens, honours and preserves the heritage of the pre-existing site, and creates an exemplar for environmentally conscious design in Scotland.

The pavilion will create an exemplar for environmentally conscious design in Scotland

Through an integrated design approach, the project team employed strategies to create a sustainable and zero-carbon project which fits within the context of West Princes Street Gardens.

Additionally, a high-performance façade, passive design strategies, such as overhangs and south-facing windows, optimised daylighting and high-efficiency lighting are all part of the design language of the project.

We will also work with a team of local horticulturalists, soil specialists, foresters, engineers, and Scottish gardeners to meet the challenges of contemporary programs in public space. Our commitment to biodiversity and resilient landscapes will follow on and consult the road map: Biodiversity Strategy: 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity.

What are the timescales for the pavilion?
We are aiming to submit our proposals to the planning authority around March/April next year. Given the significance of this project we are anticipating sic to nine months of deliberation before decision. If planning permission is received then we will start our detailed design work and procurement method in 2021. 

Ross pavilion changes castle view nov 2019

Competition scheme from 2017 (left); plans for public consultation in November 2019 (right)

Competition scheme from 2017 (left); plans for public consultation in November 2019 (right)

Competition finalists (August 2017)

  • [WINNER] wHY with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth
  • Adjaye Associates with Morgan McDonnell, BuroHappold Engineering, Plan A Consultants, JLL, Turley, Arup, Sandy Brown, Charcoalblue, AOC Archaeology, Studio LR, FMDC, Interserve and Thomas & Adamson
  • Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) with JM Architects, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, GROSS.MAX., Charcoalblue, Speirs + Major, JLL, Alan Baxter and People Friendly
  • Flanagan Lawrence with Gillespies, Expedition Engineering, JLL, Arup and Alan Baxter
  • Page\Park Architects and West 8 Landscape Architects and BuroHappold Engineering with Charcoalblue and Muir Smith Evans
  • Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter with GROSS.MAX, AECOM, Charcoalblue, Groves-Raines Architects and Forbes Massie Studio
  • William Matthews Associates and Sou Fujimoto Architects with BuroHappold Engineering, GROSS.MAX, Purcell, Scott Hobbs Planning and Filippo Bolognese

Ross Pavilion WINNER: wHY Architecture with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth

Ross Pavilion WINNER: wHY Architecture with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth

Ross Pavilion WINNER: wHY Architecture with GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth [model from 2017 competition]

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The proposal is being developed in isolation to the existing relationship between the Gardens and Princes Street. The relationship between the streetscape, the Gardens and the auditorium is fundamental to the mis-en-scene, this must not be compromised and should be an integral part of the offer and not be left to event management to conjure up ad-hoc temporary solutions.

    There should be no screening of the gardens or blocking of the footway at Princes Street at any time. The auditorium also should be open to view from Princes Street as has historically been the case. If it has to rely on screening to operate this should be limited to the auditorium only and must form part of the overall design conceit i.e. the use must fit the setting and any notion of visual conflict or barrier whatsoever between the Street scene and the gardens would be unacceptable.

    “Consultation” is all about the questions asked...thereby is the problem and EDI has to find a better approach to engage citizens ie 680 ‘supporters’ of this scheme cannot be taken to be representative of citizen view (C/f population in 2015 of only(!) 498,800) especially when 270 were not keen so thats a net support v’s no support ‘result’ of 410 people in EDI think this is good for go...just saying...!
    If that amount of people are taken to be giving the project support -regardless of its merit- the “...product of four years' of engagement with stakeholders and the people of Edinburgh” then that’s hardly something to celebrate.

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