EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Edinburgh's urban landscape is to gain a new building, one which has already gained a degree of notoriety for its boldness of design.
The 'ribbon building', as it has already been dubbed, will be both a hotel and a shopping complex, replacing the Thistle Hotel and St James Shopping Centre buildings currently dominating the east end of Princes Street, in Edinburgh city centre.
Already swathes of people are coming out either in favour of this uber-contemporary planning project, or to deride and rail against the decision to build such a feature in the city centre. Understandably the building is not to everyone's taste, and such a major development was always going to ignite passions on both sides of the conservation-functionality debate.
My personal opinion about the new building is that it will be a much needed boost to the profile of Edinburgh as a city that can boast about its share of modern architectural heritage, alongside its historical heritage. Certainly the current iteration of hotel and shopping centre is an ugly eyesore, having been developed in the concrete jungle of the 1960s. The bland grey monolith - especially when viewed from atop the nearby Calton Hill - is an assault on our modern desire for grace and style in our public buildings, and to be losing these structures is in itself a victory for the city.
Recently the kinds of 'modern' development that have been constructed in the city - like the office blocks on Morrison Street and Earl Grey Street, or the G&V Hotel building on George IV Bridge - have been of similar design or inspiration; slivers of sandstone interspersed with glass and steel, often flat or square in shape, and with no great quality of character of style. This new building breaks away from that mould, with a daring flash of colour and style that will stand in stark contrast to much of the late-Georgian buildings of the New Town.
This stark contrast is probably the feature that many people will get stuck on. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is obliged to maintain a quality and style of development that sits sympathetically alongside the existing buildings, and I think it is from adhering to this intention that we have been stuck with the glut of sandstone and steel structures of recent years.
The ribbon building still features aspects of the older cultural heritage of the city - it has to, in order to have been passed and approved by the authorities - but does so in a way which opens the city to a level of development which will help to keep it featured alongside other modern cities of the world.
Managing this balance between preservation and development hasn't crippled other cities - visit Paris, or Barcelona, and those cities present a multifaceted series of modern buildings which echo, reflect, confront, challenge, flatter and enhance the older structures of their respective urban areas. Doubtless these cities also experienced the bite of public opinion or backlash when some of the designs were proposed.
Or maybe they didn't. Maybe part of our issue here in Edinburgh, and Scotland in general, is that so much of our culture is enjoyed through a lens of retrospective and nostalgia; the very image of Scotland that is cultivated by many tourist groups hinges on couthy stereotypes of haggis and tartan, heather and whisky. We present our country as a historical curiosity, inviting visitors to indulge a chocolate box (or should that be a shortbread tin?) image of a country and culture that is rooted in outdated imagery and style.
The ribbon building resolutely rejects this backward-looking, parochial image of Scotland, and instead invites us to consider the city (or this small part of it) as a contemporary, modern, forward-facing functional, twenty-first century city, that can stand alongside the likes of Paris, Barcelona, New York, London, as a true city of the modern world.
That, I think, has to be celebrated. I like the ribbon building, and everything it represents, and I'm proud to say I live in a city where buildings like this get built.
Join me on an Up-Close and Personal Tour of the city to see other aspects of Edinburgh (ancient and modern) that I think are worth celebrating!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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