Farewell to St James Centre as ‘Capital’s most hated building’ closes doors after 40 years

The Queen outside St James Centre in Edinburgh in July 1975 .
The Queen outside St James Centre in Edinburgh in July 1975 .
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IT’S perhaps Edinburgh’s most hated building – a Brutalist throwback to an age where concrete blocks where the height of architectural fashion.

Now, more than 40 years after it first opened, the St James Centre has closed its doors for the last time ahead of its imminent demolition.

In its place, a £1 billion complex of shops, apartments, hotels and an “ultra-luxury” cinema will be built over the coming years, with construction expected to finish in 2020.

Developers insist the revamp will transform the east end of Princes Street and help Edinburgh become a world-class retail destination fit for the 21st century.

And no doubt few will mourn the passing of one of the Capital’s most infamous carbuncles – even if opinion is divided over the merit of what will replace it.

Designed by Burke Martin Partnership in 1964, the St James Centre was completed by architects Hugh Martin and Ian G Cooke six years later.

Looking back on the St James Centre

Looking back on the St James Centre

A huge chunk of Edinburgh’s historic city centre was demolished to make way for it. Georgian tenements, shops and streets all fell victim to the wrecking ball during an era that became notorious for urban upheaval.

Old black and white photographs show the sweeping curve of Leith Street as it once was, with an upper-level terrace similar to that on Victoria Street.

St James Square, part of the original New Town layout drawn up by James Craig in the 18th century, was also lost. Along with neighbouring Greenside – where the Omni Centre now stands – it was once considered among Edinburgh’s most notorious areas.

In 1905, the Scotsman described Lower Greenside as “one of the black spots on the social map of the city”.

Historic photos of the St James Centre

Historic photos of the St James Centre

But rather than ushering in a new era of urban renewal, the Brutalist St James Centre was quickly criticised for representing the worst of mid-century architectural blandness.

Pensioner George Rosie worked on its construction, helping with blueprints and the laying of foundation levels.

Now retired, he holds memories of working with masses of dangerous asbestos, and admitted he would be glad to see the back of it.

“I have never much liked the Brutalist architecture and so I’m looking forward to seeing all my hard work in the 70s undone and the site redeveloped,” he said.

He insisted the new complex would be “wonderful” when it finally opens, adding: “My only concern is with the shape of the hotel flourish [its ribbon-shaped top] – but more generally, we have a real opportunity to future proof the site and make sure that the space and design are suitable for long term purposes.”