New look for historic Edinburgh University student union

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It has a proud history as the world’s oldest purpose-built student union building.

But the look of Edinburgh University’s iconic Teviot Row House is set to change forever under plans for a multi-million pound modern extension.

Edinburgh University is joining forces with the students' association to pursue the new development.

Edinburgh University is joining forces with the students' association to pursue the new development.

The 125-year-old landmark will be overhauled and expanded into a new “Student Centre” bringing together services offered by the university and its students’ association.

It is expanded to radically transform the existing gothic-style building which is home to one of the best-known Edinburgh Festival Fringe venues, Gilded Balloon, which has been based there since 2001.

Earmarked for a gap site between George Square and Bristo Square, the new building will include spaces for everything from student development and wellbeing services to cafes, foodhalls and venues for club nights.

University principal Sir Timothy O’Shea added: “This inviting, inspiring space will underpin our vision to deliver an outstanding student experience. It will create a home from home where students feel welcomed and inspired to achieve their full potential.

The £75 million project is to be carried out in phases, starting next year with an overhaul of Teviot Row House getting underway, with completion not expected until 2024. Under the plans, which go on display at the university today, a run-down lane behind the existing building will be turned into a new public square with outdoor seating areas.

However reaction to the Student Centre development, which is being designed by the Glasgow-based architects Page / Park, has been mixed since images were posted on the university’s official Facebook page.

James Barisic said: “I love the way the proposed building fulfils the two main criteria of blocking out the light from Teviot and also looking utterly grim. What an outstanding way to ruin Teviot.”

Alan Francis said: “It’s like wearing a kilt jacket with a tutu, these are highly mismatched. Other European cities can successfully build new buildings with consideration of the old - why can’t this also happen in Edinburgh?”

Gavin Douglas, deputy secretary of the university, said: “We’ve been working on the project with the students’ association for around 18 months. We’re still very much at the public consultation stage and are very much open to hearing what people are saying about the plans we’ve released.

“The architects have worked up a design which reflects aspects of the historic facade of Teviot, without trying to mimic or ape it in any way, that might be artificial. It is adding something and appropriate while fitting in with the existing scenery and landscape.

“The impetus for the project was to bring together the students’ association and university support services onto one site. They’re both pretty scattered around at the moment. We’re also really keen to refurbish Teviot. It could be a lot smarter and more accessible.

“We think the project will really approve the student experience - that’s our main reason for doing this. We’re working hand in hand with the student association.”

Patrick Kilduff, president of Edinburgh University Students’ Association, said: “We will work with the university to ensure students have the very best experience possible.

“We are particularly excited that this project is centred on Teviot Row House, the oldest purpose built students’ union in the world. Its refurbishment and the adjacent development will ensure it remains fit to serve and support students as their needs evolve.”

Gilded Balloon founder Karen Koren said: "As tenants of Teviot Row House, we’ve been aware of the project for a while, and we're looking forward to seeing how the refurbishment of the building and the new extension can provide us with more accessible venues."