DETAILED designs for a £33 million renovation of Edinburgh University’s McEwan Hall have been submitted as part of a drive to transform the historic graduation venue.
The ambitious plans show how a series of “flexible, multi-purpose spaces” will be created through extension of the hall’s basement, with a glass entrance set to be erected in Bristo Square.
Also included in the designs are intricate carvings celebrating Scotland’s contribution to world knowledge, revamped benches and public steps, and proposals to restore the plaza’s distinctive lanterns and remove several trees.
University chiefs said the project, which should be complete by December 2016, was “on schedule” and stressed they were working with experts at Historic Scotland to ensure it is sensitively carried out.
Jane Johnston, the university’s estate development manager, said: “Work is progressing well on site with the stonework.
“The second phase, to restore and repair the stonework areas fronting on to Bristo Square, is set to begin in November and be completed by the end of October 2014.”
University leaders said plans to revamp the hall, which dates from 1897, were developed because of a catalogue of maintenance and repair issues, including damaged exterior stonework, damp penetration and cracked ceilings.
They also said the building – traditionally used as a venue for graduation, examinations and concerts – was underused and could be of wider benefit to the public.
It is expected that graduation ceremonies in 2015 and 2016 will be decanted to the Usher Hall while the revamp is carried out.
Ms Johnston said: “The main hall will be carefully restored and the basement works will include improved toilet and support facilities.
“All of these enhancements, and in particular the additional space created, will lead to year-round use of the McEwan Hall by the university community and the public for a range of events.”
Leaders at city heritage group the Cockburn Association, who previously expressed concern over the visual impact of the new glass entrance, said the jury was still out on the plans and that discussions with university architects would take place before a formal response is put together.
Director Marion Williams said: “We fully appreciate what they are trying to achieve and we all recognise both the importance of the building and its setting. Glass has become a foil that many architects use – as happened at the Usher Hall – and there’s this idea or notion that you can use it and it will be invisible. But that’s never the case – it will be lit up, it will be obvious.
“If you’re going to do that, it has to be done very well.”