As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
But when renowned architect Malcolm Fraser, pictured left, revealed his template for the largest housing development in a generation, he didn’t expect them to be branded “architecturally vacant”.
His vision for a minimalist Muirhouse of the future caused a stir when it was unveiled to city planners this week. Councillors audibly gasped when shown the first social housing block on which project will be modelled.
The bold red brick design – the template for up to 670 new homes – marks a radical departure from modern housing blocks in Edinburgh and has been likened to architecture in Birmingham and the Midlands.
The plans were eventually given the go-ahead but prompted a strong response at the city’s planning committee.
As city council planning group leader Steve Hajducki was talking members through the plans for the first block on Pennywell Road, describing them as “minimalist”, councillors challenged the design.
Conservative councillor Cameron Rose said: “Steve you used the word ‘minimalist’, I would use the words architecturally vacant. I’m just appalled at the shape of these.”
The SNP’s Elaine Morris, who represents Muirhouse, added: “Is that not Malcolm Fraser? I wasn’t going to be churlish because I’m grateful for any housing in Pennywell, but . . .”
Mr Hajducki responded: “It’s important they are built very crisply and cleanly and we have faith in the architect.”
The red brick scheme adopted by the firm – which designed the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile and early plans for the new Boroughmuir High School – came from a public consultation with residents in the area.
Afterwards, Tory councillor Joanna Mowat said: “It’s quite a stark development but if it is executed well it will be an adornment to the area. It’s very exciting that we have a top Edinburgh architect investing time in these projects.”
Work on the affordable 34-apartment building will now get under way later this year.
Other housing developers which the city council will attract to the site will be bound to follow the red brick design. A large section of the 1960s social housing in Muirhouse and neighbouring Pennywell has been demolished in recent years. Council chiefs hope to bring families back to the area with the development of modern homes.
Robin Livingstone, project architect at Malcolm Fraser Architects, said: “There’s a general feeling in our office that a lot of new housing is overly complicated with too many materials. We see this style as simple and robust and we think ahead to ten, 20 years’ time when we select materials.
“It’s very much picking up on the Georgian language of the New Town and Comely Bank – simple large windows to get as much daylight as possible.”
Jim Lowrie, the city’s planning leader, said: “We’re trying to get away from the ghetto feel and this red brick will look very attractive. Modern brick weathers very well and keeps.
“The work Malcolm Fraser has done is really of a very high standard and this will be a huge asset to the area.”