Marion Williams: ‘Ribbon hotel’ blight on city skyline

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We have (and had at outline stage) mixed views about the introduction of a rotunda building in the St James Quarter square; there is certainly a long historical precedent for such structures working well as urban design set-pieces but there is an equal argument that the whole scheme would benefit from an open space here so that this was a true square of very high quality and, unlike any other square in the city, paved, of intimate scale and surrounded by retail frontages.

As for the rotunda building creating a skyline feature on the axis of the George Street vista, this was the cause of considerable controversy in 2008 when a so-called glass “gherkin” design was proposed along the lines of a miniature 30 St Mary Axe in London.

At outline stage after public consultation this was portrayed as having been dropped, although the bulk massing did remain in the approved floor plan perimeters. There is a good case both economically in terms of quality of environment attracting high rents and on aesthetic grounds for there not being any rotunda building at all and that, as a feature breaking through the skyline and compromising the silhouette of the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square when viewed from George Street and on numerous other vistas across the city, any feature would have to be of the highest aesthetic quality and make an undoubted positive contribution to the skyline.

The “Ribbon Hotel” is the proposed “iconic” element of the new shopping mall at St James. We would question the need for another so-called iconic building on the skyline in Edinburgh – we have the castle. To try to turn a hotel into an iconic, graceful monument is a tall order, hotels are by their nature squat buildings, allowing the maximum number of bedrooms to turn a profit. Here we have a squat building squeezed into a space and hidden in “ribbon”. The concept design showed a twirl of the “ribbon” piercing the skyline, now we have a “Mr Whippy” – one of the more polite nicknames – appearing above the height of the mall and visible from all angles, with negative impact, especially from George Street, Leith Street and Calton Hill.

The facade appears to be limestone, an inappropriate material in the New Town; it should be sandstone. It is these and other details of the new development that are to be determined in the application for an approval of conditions.

Marion Williams is director of the Cockburn Association