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Advocate's Close, Edinburgh

Advocate's Close, Edinburgh

Creating a vibrant new quarter within a previously run down part of the city

Overview

Occupying an historic site within the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town Conservation Area, the Advocates Close development successfully creates a vibrant new quarter within a previously run down and unloved part of the city. Retaining and rehabilitating all of the existing buildings, reinstating historical building forms and the characteristic herringbone street pattern, whilst inserting sensitive contemporary additions, this project cleverly knits together previously disparate elements to the breath a new lease of life and fresh economic activity into the heart of the historic World Heritage site.

Since completion, the Advocates Close development has been warmly received within the local community, and has won a number of architectural and design awards including the RIAS Andrew Doolan award for “Best Building in Scotland” and the RICS “Project of the Year”. Most importantly however, the area between Warriston’s Close and Byres close is now a vibrant community and once again forms an important part of the fabric of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town.

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Approach

Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, this historic site formerly occupied by the City of Edinburgh Council, encompasses nine listed buildings over 11 storeys and spans four Closes in between the High Street, Cockburn Street and Market Street. The site drops considerably from top to bottom, and buildings range in age from 16th to mid 20th Century. While many of the buildings are listed, the majority had been significantly altered since their construction including reckless internal subdivisions, removal of upper storeys and the termination of public footpaths.

The characteristic herringbone pattern of development in the Old Town evolved from the tight feuing of property fronting the High Street and was well established by the mid-16th century. As the population of the area around the High Street grew through to the end of the 18th century, the potential for further development within this framework had been more or less exhausted with tenement properties of up to ten storeys.

Following the demolition of many of the tenement buildings through the 19th century, the site became home to the offices and printing press of the Evening News following the construction of a new boiler house in 1896. The City of Edinburgh Council gradually acquired ownership of buildings across the site on a piecemeal basis over the course of the 20th century before vacating in 2006.

The design proposals within the context of the existing range of buildings and important heritage setting required to balance the following primary objectives:

 

a)  Make the best use of existing buildings in terms of efficient use of resources, retention of architectural heritage and to create a desirable place to stay, work and socialise in order to guarantee continued habitation and maintenance of the building fabric and civic vitality.

b)  Respond positively to conservational aspirations for the enhancement of the World Heritage site and conservation area, whilst at the same time promoting contemporary design, in this case, as a rational means of resolving inherent problems of the site, knitting together disparate constructional and spatial elements and to present a more coherent idea of the architectural evolution of buildings on the site.

 

The challenge was therefore to create a vibrant new quarter in the Old Town that combines the rehabilitation of historic buildings and public realm with alterations and interventions which participate in the continuing organic architectural evolution of the Old Town. The design borrows from the eclectic range of historic architectural forms and styles, each redolent of their particular era, to continue the established pattern of overbuilding and modification. Whilst retaining all of the existing buildings, twenty-first century elements have been carefully added to reinstate the historic form and mass of the site.

Performance

The mixed use scheme provides a new 208 room hotel - the UK’s first Motel One - 50 serviced apartments on the upper levels with restaurants, offices, bars & cafes opening on to and enlivening the surrounding squares and closes.

At street level throughout the site a variety of commercial units have been accomodated including a restaurant, offices and a bar/bistro. This includes revitalising Roxburgh’s Court to form an outdoor terrace, and overall the proposals increase street activity and pedestrian movement throughout the site, thereby adding vibrancy to the area. A new pedestrian thoroughfare linking Advocate’s Close with the News Steps was also created.

New additions include the formation of roof terraces with views across public spaces or, in most cases, spectacular views across Edinburgh’s iconic skyline. New rooftop extensions were built to replace previously removed upper floors. The new additions have been designed so that there is a clear historical distinction between old and new, a process which is entirely characteristic of building in the Old Town, while attempting to unify the different elements through the careful selection of building materials.

Lessons

Due to the number and wide age range of existing buildings on the site, a variety of external materials were present. Most of the buildings were built of exposed random rubble or ashlar stonework, however later alterations had grey cement render finishes or exposed brickwork and concrete. With the material palette, there has been an attempt to unify these disparate elements by replacing the grey render with a buff coloured render and using natural sandstone, slate, dark grey terracotta cladding, timber and aluminium for new building elements. Dark grey aluminium windows in the new elements complement the surrounding cladding, in contrast with the existing timber sash and case windows which were overhauled, draught proofed and repainted white. Other measures undertaken to improve the environmental credentials of the buildings included new efficient boilers and installation of low energy lighting with integral presence detectors.

A number of existing facades were retained whilst the internal structure was modified or, removed and completely replaced with a new steel and concrete frame. This was necessary to allow the re-instatement of massing above. Oversailing issues meant a crane was impractical, therefore hundreds of steel beams were brought into the buildings by a system of tracks and pulleys, a major logistical issue in itself. However the existing timber beams were carefully removed, stored off site, redressed and reused, most notably as fixtures and furniture in The Devil’s Advocate bar.

Significant archaeological investigations were required, however, by following historical building lines, these were kept to a minimum whilst also respecting the historical herringbone street pattern.

The considered, sensitive approach of the redevelopment offers an exceptional contribution to the integrity of the Conservation Area and World Heritage Site, as an exemplar model for the reuse of significant historical buildings.

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