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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Reflections on 21 years of architectural conservation

Reflections on 21 years of architectural conservation

13th May 2022

Edinburgh World Heritage

Edinburgh World Heritage’s Conservation Architect and Grants Manager, Fiona MacDonald, is retiring after 21 years with the organisation. In her time here Fiona, has overseen hundreds of conservation projects, and used her expertise to help protect the integrity and beauty of Edinburgh’s buildings.

Fiona’s strong conservation philosophy has made a major contribution to Edinburgh World Heritage’s approach to preserving the World Heritage Site. In her own words:

“Turn any corner in the World Heritage site and you will see three or four projects in any one street, funded by Edinburgh World Heritage working with the owners.

“The cluster effect of completed projects has made a meaningful impact on the city; good conservation won’t hit you in the eye, as a successful project will look as if it has always been there.”

Reflecting on her time with Edinburgh World Heritage, Fiona has enjoyed working with groups of owners, for example at Well Court in the Dean Village, where the conservation work ensured that the architectural integrity of this landmark building was restored.

Another successful project was the conservation of William Playfair’s City Observatory on Calton Hill, which was built in 1818. In 2013, Edinburgh World Heritage was approached by the City of Edinburgh Council and Collective, an arts organisation, to help conserve the building and open it up to the public.


City Observatory conservation work

The City Observatory had lain empty and been neglected for many years, and was classed as a building at risk. Extensive roof leaks had led to dry rot, which destroyed traditional lath and plaster ceilings and highly decorative cornices.

Fiona helped shape the conservation statement which set out the policies needed to help secure the future of the building, and to ensure that Playfair’s original layout was reinstated. Edinburgh World Heritage issued a grant of £500,000 to get the project off the ground. This initial grant leveraged £4.5 million of additional funding alongside the hard work of partners, which was used to completely conserve the building, and Fiona offered her expertise to ensure that the project was completed to the highest conservation standards. The City Observatory re-opened to the public in 2018 as Collective, and now hosts art exhibitions.

Fiona has also taken pride in helping to open previously inaccessible spaces to the public, such as Gardner’s Crescent and St Mary’s Cathedral gardens, and at the Ross Fountain where the iconic piece of public art become operational again after many years of disrepair.


Conservation work to the Ross Fountain

Fiona has been a keystone of Edinburgh World Heritage’s conservation work in her 21 years with the organisation, and has supported the city and its buildings in ways that few people can hope to match.

We are currently hiring a Head of Conservation (Buildings) to oversee our Conservation Funding Programme and support city partners with architectural expertise. This is an exceptional opportunity to play a key role in the conservation of Edinburgh’s historic environment, supported by passionate staff and good work/life balance. We offer flexible working, free access to a range of events, and the opportunity to protect and enhance one of the UK’s most celebrated cities.

Apply here now

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