The future of Edinburgh’s architecture

When walking through Edinburgh, it may seem like the city has been set in stone for centuries. But as William Morris wrote, “All continuity in history means is (…) perpetual changes”. Our city is constantly evolving and is currently building numerous exciting new projects, all enriching Edinburgh’s history. Here is a selection of the most promising upcoming designs.
Artistic render of wHY’s project from Princes Street

Ross pavilion and gardens, wHY

Set in the heart of Edinburgh, Princes gardens play a very important role in the organisation of the city. The valley geographically separates the medieval Old Town from the Georgian New Town. In order to preserve the views to the castle and the natural topography of the city, a 19th century Parliament Act prevents any building from being built 4.6m over Princes Street pavement. Thus, any new project in this context is forced to be very considerate to the conflicting environments around it.

wHY, an American practice, has been commissioned to completely revitalise the Prince’s gardens by replacing the existing Ross pavilion. Their “Butterfly” design will merge a new indoor and outdoor performance centre with an undulating landscape, blurring the lines between interior and exterior. The new design was chosen because it “complemented, but did not compete with, the skyline of the city and the castle”. The project is designed to offer visitors an interesting botanical loop, featuring the architecture and the culture of Edinburgh. It highlights the city without trying to blend in the historical context. 

Although construction has already started, the “hobbit house” is not announced to be completed until 2023. Let’s hope that the reality check of health and safety regulations is not going to spoil this seamlessly landscaped pavilion.


View of the project from St Andrew Square

Dunard Centre, David Chipperfield Architects

David Chipperfield Architects won the competition to design the venue for the new International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust (IMPACT). This ambitious project will be situated in the heart of the New Town, on one end of Craig’s New Town plan on St George Square.

When the young James Craig designed the New Town, he planned for George Street to have two prominent buildings on each end, creating a symmetrical arrangement. Situated behind the Dundas House, the new Dunard Centre will now serve as a focal point for the east end of George Street. Thus the architects responded to the context of the New Town by designing a neoclassical inspired facade : “The expression of a base, middle and top, found on other neoclassical buildings, is picked up by the composition of the venue’s massing while the texture and tone of its concrete picks up the various sandstones found in the New Town.”

David Chipperfield architects have successfully responded to their project’s environment without creating a ridiculous pastiche. However, the renders do curiously ignore the future coexistence of the concert hall with the spire of the W hotel right behind it.  

The project is still at infant stage but promises an exciting outcome for Edinburgh’s first dedicated new space for music and the performing arts in 100 years.

External view of the projected glass-house

Royal Botanical Garden extension, Nicoll Russell Studios

The Royal Botanical Gardens, in addition to being an internationally renowned centre of excellence in plant biodiversity research and conservation, is also one of the city’s most enjoyable places to wander in. The gardens take visitors on an explorational journey through a series of glass houses dating from the 19th and 20th century.

The Dundee based architects Nicoll Russell Studios have been commissioned to completely restore and redevelop the existing glass houses as well as expanding the site to welcome a new glass house. “To add to the outstanding existing examples of glasshouses from the 19th and 20th centuries, it is proposed to create a ‘state of the art’ glasshouse for the 21st century which will complement and echo the presence and aspiration of its predecessors.”

The bug-like shape of the project has been designed to minimise the potential overshadowing of the existing glasshouses as well as increase the engagement with the existing Herbarium. The project hasn’t received planning permission yet but promises an exciting new experience.

Edinburgh Waverley masterplan

Edinbugrh Waverley masterplan consultation panels

Although Edinburgh Warverley is already UK’s second busiest train station, it is expected to double its passengers to 49 million by 2048. A pre-design consultation phase has just begun to identify the challenges current users face and ways to tackle them. Among the suggested issues is an orphaned taxi rank on Market street and confusing double level circulation between the platforms. 

The station will be completely transformed to be more wheelchair accessible and have better street access from both size thanks to new concourse mezzanines. However, conservation groups are concerned about the fate of the existing roof structures of the station.

Although it is impossible to comment on any design at this stage of the project, it is interesting to see our city evolve towards more inclusive architecture and dealing with increasing tourism volumes. 

There are many more exciting projects that could have been mentioned, but this selection proves that historical cities can incorporate contemporary designs without sacrificing their identity. We wouldn’t want Edinburgh to become a museum city, paralysed by its own historical heritage, therefore it is promising to see thoughtful new projects blossom in the heart of our beloved city.  


We’ve done architectural tours in a number of cities and this ranks among the top!” 

Lynn, Edinburgh

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