Architect Gareth Hoskins has laughed off criticism his impact on Edinburgh’s built heritage is similar to the destructive might of film-monster Godzilla
Hoskins was responding to a submission to Unesco by conservationist David Black, who is concerned about the future of the Scottish capital’s world heritage status, in which Black attacks the architect’s planned redevelopment of the Grade A-listed old Royal High School on Calton Hill.
The controversial project would see new wings added to Thomas Hamilton’s long-disused, neo-classical building as part of plans to convert the 1829 landmark into a 160-room luxury hotel.
According to The Scotsman, the Black’s 36-page dossier calls for urgent action to deal with ‘a deep-seated crisis’ affecting the city’s historic buildings.
The paper quotes Black as saying: ‘It is as a Godzilla of the urban realm that Hoskins seems to be making his mark in Edinburgh. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to think of a more unfortunate mismatch between an architect and a restoration project.’
However Hoskins dismissed Black’s arguments as unfocused. The Glasgow-based architect, who was on holiday when the criticisms emerged last week, said his children had been amused by the comments, adding: ‘I’m not tall enough to be Godzilla.’
Defending the Calton Hill plans, the architect said that around 1,000 people had already attended consultation events at the building since the proposals were first aired, and that hundreds of responses had been received.
‘I think a lot of people came along because the building isn’t open often – it’s a fantastic place, but everybody is surprised at how small it its,’ he told AJ.
‘Trying to sift through hundreds of responses into a number of different groupings is taking up a lot of time.’
He said: ‘We’ve got a serious job of trying to work designs up on a very important bulding, and it’s not the case that we’re working on the Royal High School in isolation. It’s one of the most interesting and symbolic sites in the city - there’s a lot of consensus to be had.
‘Should we be the ones to work on a building like this? We were brought in because of our thoughtful work on World Heritage Sites.’
Hoskins said the practice’s proposals were evolving and that the initail ideas had been about establishing a ‘broad strategy’ for the scale and massing of the site. He said a planning application for the hotel complex was exptected to be submitted before the end of the year.
Black has previously called for the Scottish capital to be stripped of its Unesco world heritage status, which he claims has ‘turned out to be the corporate developers’ Trojan Horse’.
The Scotsman quoted a spokesman for old Royal High School developers Urbanist Group and Duddingston House Properties saying: ‘Mr Black is entitled to his colourful opinion. We remain entirely focused on saving the building and creating a world-class attraction.’
Previous story (AJ 06.02.2015)
Hoskins reveals contentious hotel plans for empty Edinburgh landmark
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.
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.’
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.
‘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 concluded: ‘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.’