St James Quarter: Guardian critic slams Edinburgh's 'golden turd'
A Guardian critic has not held back on taking aim at Edinburgh’s new St James Quarter – or rather “turd”, as he describes it – since it opened about two weeks ago.
Architect and design critic Oliver Wainwright has spoken of how the recently opened £1 billion development has “defaced” the city’s historic skyline, “poking its faecal peak” above the Capital’s more elegantly placed steeples and spires.
Writing in the Guardian, he said the “shimmering pile” that “appears to squat on other buildings’ shoulders, like an unfortunate deposit dropped from on high” is evidence that, despite all the Unesco World Heritage site protections, conservation group campaigns and lengthy planning negotiations “shit still happens.”
While giving his own personal, damning view on the aesthetics of the building, he also points to how much the shopping centre has borne the brunt of a deriding public and media in the build up to its grand opening on 24 June.
So, of course he brings up the moment it was likened to the poop emoji, which was swiftly followed by the campaign: “Pit Googly Eyes Oan The Jobby”, created by those who were clearly browned off by the controversial structure.
The Golden Turd Hotel Twitter account also gets a mention in Wainwright’s scathing commentary, which celebrated the building topping a poll last year for the worst building in the world.
But its appearance isn’t the only thing the critic says is causing a stink in Edinburgh’s city centre.
Flooding issues inside the building following storms and heavy rainfall in the Capital on Sunday only gave Wainwright more ammunition to take aim at the multi-storey property’s structure.
"A sturdy turd this is not,” he said, commenting on how the “clumsily” fitted steel cladding panels were “patched up with gaffer tape” just days after it opened, adding the building “might not be built to withstand the Scottish elements.” And that it wasn’t, after Sunday’s downpours.
Beyond the aesthetics and architecture of the new build, Wainwright then raises questions about the impact the 1.7 million square ft development, with more than 80 shops, will have on the city’s current high street.
With endless queues building up outside the centre’s new Lego store and other fashion stores new to Scotland, including & Other Stories, the critic described Edinburgh’s famed Princes Street as “a sad sight, dotted with the empty shells of Covid-slain department stores and vacant shopfronts.”
Wainwright also contests the need for a new 250-room hotel and 75-room aparthotel – which form part of the structure – in the Capital which already has “a glut of such accommodation”.
He then denounced the £320,000 studios and £2.26m penthouses found on the building’s top level saying the project is hardly giving a hand in supporting Edinburgh’s housing need.
"You’ll have to head a mile north to find the 41 affordable homes, delivered off-site in the cheaper Canonmills area,” he added.
Wainwright’s final jab at the Golden Turd centres of the question of public money.
The project has benefited from £61.4m of public money from the Scottish government and Edinburgh City Council.
Those in favour of the development argue it boosts investment in rundown areas, while critics say, in Wainwright’s words, it is “an opaque developer giveaway without much public benefit.”
In response to controversy over the project’s financial prospects for the city, Wainwright says: “In Edinburgh, it seems odd that a huge retail and leisure development in the city centre, projected to receive 25 million visitors a year, should be deemed to require such lavish public subsidy – particularly when it’s spent on encouraging more people to drive into town.”
He finishes quoting author and critic David Black, who has campaigned against the development for years, who said: “A great city has been defaced, for what?”