A guide to the architecture and design of Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh Guide
  • 16 February 2011
Designed for Life

Edinburgh’s architecture from medieval tenements to the ultra-modern

Edinburgh’s architecture continues to inspire, from the medieval tenements of the Old Town to the ultra-modern Scottish Parliament

Should you happen past Enric MirallesScottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile and hear raised voices from a group of otherwise peaceful-looking types, don’t be surprised. It’ll just be yet another architectural tour that has descended into debate over the controversial building, which has been a talking (or should that be shouting) point, ever since Miralles first put pen to paper and sketched his idea for the parliament.

The building, which eventually finished up massively over budget, could be described as the architectural equivalent of Marmite, so clear is the divide between the citizens and visitors who love it or loathe it. One thing is for sure, though: you can’t ignore it. This is a building that demands attention.

‘My tours end at the parliament, and often in a row,’ says Isabelle Lomholt of www.edinburgh architecture.co.uk. ‘People are frightened by that kind of building. They say it doesn’t look like a parliament should. But what should a parliament look like? Look at Sydney Opera House, which also went over budget – if you sketch those arches on a napkin, you immediately know it’s Sydney. Now we have something iconic and full of life in Edinburgh that will continue to move and attract people. It’s brought the city into the 21st century.

‘Edinburgh’s architectural draw lies in its interesting town planning,’ she continues. ‘The Old Town has many centuries of buildings yet it hasn’t held back on modern architecture, so has great diversity. The New Town has a very clear story. It’s the most exciting city ever, yet it’s also very easy to understand.’

From organic medieval to neo-classical town planning and contemporary classics, Edinburgh has it all, with more architectural gems and sites of interest than the cobbles that line the Royal Mile. With almost 5,000 listed buildings, it’s little wonder the centre of Edinburgh won Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1995. There is the organic mix of old and new jostling cheek by jowl in the Old Town and the Georgian splendour of the New Town, plus one-off buildings such as Basil Spence’s 1960s housing or the wonderful Dance Base hidden from the outside in the Grassmarket yet so delightful inside it’ll make you want to dance. ‘We know that tourists consistently mention Edinburgh’s built heritage as a primary reason for visiting,’ says Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage. ‘And, once here, they find the architecture and sense of history to be the most impressive aspects of the city.’

One of the best ways to explore the city’s architecture is on foot as part of a walking tour. The Old Town is the most popular area. Other tours focus on geographical areas, building types or chronological themes. And if you want to get a real feel for the New Town’s architecture, you can take a look inside the Georgian House in Charlotte Square to see how the gentry lived.

Now, about that parliament building…

Dance Base
14 Grassmarket, 0131 225 5525, www.dancebase.co.uk

Edinburgh Walking Tours
For groups only Contact Isabelle Lomholt on 01620 825722 / 07952 149814
The Georgian House 7 Charlotte Square, 0844 493 2117, www.nts.org.uk
The Scottish Parliament Horse Wynd, 0131 348 5000, www.scottish.parliament.uk


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