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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Residents and artists breathe new life into Edinburgh’s historic closes

Residents and artists breathe new life into Edinburgh’s historic closes

31st March 2022

Edinburgh World Heritage

Edinburgh World Heritage has announced the completion of the first batch of its Twelve Closes Project. 

Edinburgh’s closes, the narrow, often steep alleyways branching off from the Royal Mile, are an important characteristic of the Old Town, and a reminder of the city’s medieval origins. However, Edinburgh’s closes are often perceived as being unclean and unsafe, particularly at night.  

This innovative co-design project aims to renew and reinterpret some of Edinburgh’s most historic closes, creating safer and more attractive spaces for residents, businesses and tourists to explore.  

The project partnership between Edinburgh World Heritage and the City of Edinburgh Council, working with Edinburgh Napier University, has sought to tackle local problems such as anti-social behaviour through alternative forms of street lighting; brightening and enhancing the historic alleyways. This has been achieved by bringing together members of the local community and enabling participation in the design process, supporting them in selecting themes and historic stories to interpret and present.  

The first batch has seen the completion of new lighting, art installations and interpretation panels in Carrubber’s Close, Chessel’s Court and Stevenlaw’s Close as well new lighting for the community-led interpretive art project in Pirrie’s Close. 

Stevenlaw’s Close 

 Stevenlaw’s Close features the artwork “Birds in Flight”, a lighting installation utilising light projected through a laser cut ceiling. The birds in flight are apertures cut through the ceiling allowing shafts of patterned light to fall to the ground and across the deeply textured walls. The light is animated every quarter of an hour to create a sense of movement representing the birds flying overhead. The idea for the birds in flight motif came from local residents who wanted to pay tribute to the pigeons that would roost in the close. 

Chessel’s Court 

Installations in Chessel’s Court include a section of mirrored ceiling between the entry arches and new lighting on the underside of the arches themselves. This creates playful ambient lighting at night that reflects around the space, working in conjunction with the existing architecture. The covered entrance to the court also houses a cast aluminium geometric relief panel designed by Glaswegian artist Toby Paterson.  

Carrubber’s Close 

Carubber’s Close features gently shifting lighting that alters the shadows in the close, creating a feeling of procession that was highlighted by the congregation of Old Saint Paul’s. The garden of Old Saint Paul’s was also opened up during the project and is now illuminated at night to show off this calm space.  The close also includes a new art installation by Edinburgh artist David Lemm which features geometric metal fittings that cast shadows into the close. 

Pirrie’s Close 

Pirrie’s Close links the western side of Chessel’s Court to the Royal Mile and was included in the project after residents secured additional funding for a community-led art installation. The installation includes coloured lighting, and laser-cut wall and ceiling suspended panels forming a fretwork of geometric and naturalistic designs interpreting the lives of the residents. 

The Twelve Closes Project is a long-term renewal and reinterpretation scheme and will continue to work with artists and communities over the coming years. Workshops are currently being held to co-design Lady Stair’s Close and Makers Court. 

Fiona Rankin, Edinburgh World Heritage Project Manager, commented:  

“It is fantastic that each of these closes have been transformed by working in partnership with local communities and we are delighted with the finished result. 

“The co-design process has empowered communities to tell their stories, and the alternative way of lighting historic streets complements the heritage, and will encourage more people to get out and explore the Old Town.  

“We hope the work completed in this first batch of closes will encourage more residents to participate in future workshops. This will give them a voice in making the closes that they live, work or regularly use, safer and more attractive.” 

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, Transport and Environment Convener, said:  

“This is a wonderful project that complements these deeply historic closes. By collaborating with Edinburgh World Heritage and Edinburgh Napier University to liaise with residents and businesses, refine designs and carry out a range of significant improvements, we’re working to transform these spaces for all those who live, work, and visit here. 

“It’s fantastic to see the first of the closes now complete. Along with partners, our contribution, including street lighting upgrades, graffiti removal, painting, and paving and handrail repairs, helps make these essential pedestrian routes through the Old Town much safer, attractive areas, where anti-social behaviour is reduced and the historic environment can be enjoyed.” 

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