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Edinburgh World Heritage/Events/No new ‘golden age’ of architecture for Edinburgh in sight

No new ‘golden age’ of architecture for Edinburgh in sight

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12th May 2020

Rebecca Leary

‘Is Edinburgh’s architecture at the dawn of a new golden age?’ was the question posed to three leading Scottish architects at Edinburgh World Heritage’s recent ‘In conversation with…’ on-line event, which is part of a series programmed in response to the lockdown. With a large audience tuning in from home, the panellists were asked to consider the extraordinary pace of change in Edinburgh, and, crucially, whether future generations would look back and call this a ‘golden age’ of architecture.

Rab Bennetts, the architect behind the Bayes Centre at Edinburgh University, was supported by Malcolm Fraser, designer of the Storytelling Centre, when he described the notion of a new golden age as “ludicrous”. Along with Richard Murphy, appointed to design the new Filmhouse, they highlighted a series of threats to the city, including weak civic leadership, bad planning and procurement policies, and a failure to involve the community in building projects.

“You can’t do good cities without good leadership,” commented Richard Murphy who has proposed a dedicated architecture centre for the city where these issues can be debated and where ‘we can bring the public along in our discussion about architecture”. He commented “that leadership is either political, or it is at the head of the planning department, and [in Edinburgh] I don’t think we have either at the moment.” Citing the need for Edinburgh to have a more open procurement process, he went on to say “I am a big fan of paid, limited architectural competitions, not only because it gets the best architects but because it educates the people of Edinburgh who want to be part of the planning process.”

Among other ideas touched on were the impact of traffic in Edinburgh. Malcolm Fraser commented that while it is great to see the Edinburgh shutting one or two roads on a Sunday, in Bologna whole areas are closed to cars most of the time, while in Copenhagen Richard Murphy noted that the city is largely for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.

The panelists were then asked about what they perceive as the main threats to the World Heritage Site. Richard Murphy commented that while Edinburgh World Heritage has done a ‘good job’ in conserving many of the buildings over the years, the main issue for the future is simple neglect by owners. Another concern is how new work will complement the existing built environment: “how do you match what we already have?”

Looking to the past for a moment, Richard Murphy concluded that the reason Edinburgh has such as remarkable architectural legacy was because “there was an amazing idea about a city’, something we need to recapture today.


You can watch the whole event for free, anytime, on our YouTube page.

Over the coming weeks, we will be hosting a series of on-line conversations with leading local and national figures to discuss some of the issues we face as a city, both during and after the coronavirus lockdown.

Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to hear about our next online event, or visit our events page for more details.

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