Filter Menu

50 George Square, Edinburgh

50 George Square, Edinburgh

Refurbishment of a category B listed modernist building for the University of Edinburgh, providing additional accommodation and rationalising internal planning.


The buildings at 50 George Square were designed by Robert Matthew, Johnston-Marshall and Partners, and completed in 1970. They form part of the Category A listed David Hume Tower grouping which is one of our key examples of Scottish Modernism. Through careful conservation works, maintaining the formal organisational system of the buildings as originally intended and by careful and sensitive intervention we have, hopefully, maintained the original spirit of the buildings yet adapted their programmes for the 21st century.


50 George Square is a reinforced concrete frame building with block infill. It is clad in York stone and has horizontal bands of timber-framed windows. The buildings stone façades were, wherever possible, retained and the windows reconstructed in their existing form.

The original windows to both the David Hume Tower Basement and 50 George Square were single glazed with Brazilian Mahogany frames. FSC Brazilian Mahogany was not available and therefore Utile was used together with double glazed units incorporating solar control glass. Generally, frame section sizes and detailing were able to be maintained to match the original and from a sustainability, U value and air tightness point of view the new windows have made a huge difference to the buildings’ comfort and CO2 emissions whilst maintaining the original aesthetic.

A whole range of conservation works were undertaken on the original stonework including removal of fixings through stonework, reconstruction of stone defects, removal of staining and repointing. What was prevalent was a degree of surface delamination, particularly to the higher level (and therefore more exposed) panels. These areas were dealt with by localised light hand tool dressing back of the stone surface to ensure that there were no exposed edges to act as a trap for moisture that might therefore enhance the rate of delamination. Dressing was in line with the general tooling of the face of each stone panel to minimise the visual effect on completion. 

Internally 50 George Square and the David Hume Tower Basement were stripped back to their concrete frames and screeded floors which gave the opportunity to carefully insert a new interior with roof extensions at two levels: At first floor level a new Project Room was inserted into the complex onto the roof of the main lecture theatre. The second extension is a completely new steel frame floor level to provide completely new space.

Within the lower ground floor the courtyard space has been partially in filled, additional linking elements inserted from podium to the lower ground floor level and the internal spaces of the basement opened up to the courtyard.


The 50 George Square development buildings have a BREEAM target rating of “Excellent”. The proposals have maximised the passive features of the existing buildings, including the spacious interior volumes, the existing heavyweight thermal mass of the structure and utilisation of the building form to permit natural ventilation to many of the building areas. Carbon emission savings of approximately 60%, energy savings of approximately 25% and running cost savings of approximately 55% have been achieved.


One of the major challenges of the project was the integration of 21st Century services into a 20th Century building. Floor to ceiling heights were limited and thorough coordination of architectural, services and structural designs was required on an ongoing basis throughout the project. Access for maintenance was key for the University and this was required to all service routes. Timber and metal access panels were integrated within the design.

Back to index

Case Study

Download this case study (1.43 Mb)