£45m Edinburgh concert hall to open up access to huge chunk of New Town

Alasdair Graham, of architects Chipperfield, and Sir Ewan Brown, chair of the Impact Trust, at the site of the new concert hall.
Alasdair Graham, of architects Chipperfield, and Sir Ewan Brown, chair of the Impact Trust, at the site of the new concert hall.
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Edinburgh’s new £45 million concert hall will open up access to a huge swathe of little-known New Town squares, lanes, terraces and gardens, its backers have revealed.

It is hoped the Impact Centre, which is earmarked for a site behind RBS’s historic home on St Andrew Square, will provide a crucial link between public transport hubs, shopping thoroughfares and new hotels.

The new venue, which is expected to become a flagship venue for the Edinburgh International Festival, will be accessible from the north, south, east and west.

New routes will be created to link the complex with the new St James and Register Lanes developments, St Andrew Square, the city’s bus station and Waverley train station.

The vision has emerged in the first exhibition of plans by Chipperfield, the architects masterminding the project, which is being funded by charitable trust Impact Scotland and will create a new home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

The exhibition material states: “The relatively concealed nature of the site forces us to address what the building’s relationship to the city will be.

“By creating new public connections into and through the site, its hidden nature is turned into its advantage, encouraging exploration of the interior of the urban block.

“This gives people the opportunity to walk through these currently inaccessible areas and links the site to its neighbours and them to one another.

The insertion of a public venue in this context enables it to both influence and draw on the atmosphere of this rich and unique part of the city, bringing life to the heart of the block.”

The proposed site behind RBS’s 18th century head office, which is adjacent to the Harvey Nichols department store, is currently home to a 1960s office block which will be demolished to make way for the Impact Centre.

It is being partly bankrolled by the Dunard Fund, a trust set up by American philanthropist Carol Grigor, one of the key backers of both the SCO and the Edinburgh International Festival.

The venue, which will be designed to make it suitable for rock, pop, electronica, jazz and folk concert, will boast a 1000-capacity main arena, along with a 200-seat performance, rehearsal and recording space, as well as cafe, bar and restaurant facilities.

Alasdair Graham, associate director at Chipperfield, said: “We’re trying to create a major public building in a site that is essentially concealed from the streets around it.

“Our ambition is to make the site as permeable as possible so that neighbouring areas like St Andrew Square, St James and Register Lanes can connect to each other, draw people in and through the site, give more life to the venue, and bring more people to these areas as well.

“The Impact Centre will be visible on the city’s skyline from a few key points, without dominating it in any way, but as you approach it it will disappear. Only once you come into the site will it appear again.”

The exhibition of early plans for the development have been revealed almost exactly a year after the project to create Edinburgh’s first purpose-built concert hall for more than a century was announced.

Work on the new venue, which has since won £20 million worth of combined support from the Scottish and UK governments, is hoped to start in early 2019 and be complete in 2021.

Impact Scotland chair Sir Ewan Brown said: “We want this to be a place which is used all day, every day. It has to be self-sustaining.

“The city council is very keen that we open up the whole area around the site. We seem to be the catalyst for making that happen."