Plans for city’s first new concert hall in a century are unveiled

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Edinburgh has spent a quarter of a century trying to create new concert hall developments. But, to the dismay of music fans in the city, various schemes have failed to get off the ground, while several existing venues have closed down.

The architect behind Edinburgh’s first new concert hall in more than a century has unveiled its planned designs – as it emerged that the venue is expected to be open every day, attract more than 250,000 visitors each year and generate £25 million for the economy.

How the proposed concert hall will appear from St Andrew Square.

How the proposed concert hall will appear from St Andrew Square.

The 1000-capacity auditorium will have a rooftop dome, glass-covered walkway and outdoor terraces, under Sir David Chipperfield’s vision for the £45m Impact Centre, which could open by 2021. The complex, which will provide a long-awaited home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, is also expected to become a major new Edinburgh International Festival venue.

Billed as a “younger sister” to the Usher Hall, which opened in 1914, its design will be suitable for classical, world, pop, jazz, folk and electronica, as well as comedy and spoken word events. A smaller studio will host 200-capacity shows.

Sir David said the egg-shaped complex had been designed to respect its historic New Town surroundings, including RBS’s historic head office with its dome-roofed banking hall, while avoiding the “big blank box” look of many new venues.

Its colonnode-style “crown,” which will be open throughout the day, will offer views across the city, although the venue’s maximum height will be lower than a controversial neighbouring hotel scheme.

David Chipperfield is the architect

David Chipperfield is the architect

Even though it is earmarked for a site off St Andrew Square’s hidden bank building, Dundas House, Sir David hopes the venue will become a new “cultural community centre,” bustling with activity throughout the day, even when no concerts are on, comparing it to London’s Royal Festival Hall .

Although RBS is keeping its Dundas House branch open for the foreseeable future, a direct link to the Impact Centre’s foyer will be created to allow concert-goers access for some events. The venue will also be accessible from two other new developments, The Registers and St James, which are taking shape in the area.

The project has already won £25m worth of backing from the Scottish and UK governments, and the city council. It is being bankrolled by the Dunard Trust, one of the biggest privately-funded supporters of the SCO and EIF, with several major donations made since a £10m appeal was launched last year.

Speaking as detailed plans were lodged with the council, Sir David said previous cultural projects, including the Hepworth Wakefield arts centre in Yorkshire and Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, had been successful in oveturning perceptions of culture as “elitist” or “for toffs.”

New artist impressions of The Impact Centre - the proposed concert hall behind St. Andrew Square

New artist impressions of The Impact Centre - the proposed concert hall behind St. Andrew Square

Sir David said: “A cultural building of this importance in the middle of a city like Edinburgh, and in particular the New Town, is a fantastic challenge. We gravitate towards cultural buildings and complex settings.

“Contemporary society is realising that culturalpart of the glue is cultural buildings. Museums, galleries, theatres and music venues were always rather regarded as temples.

“We’ve been involved in projects which would historically have been regarded as elitist and inappropriate in areas like Margate and Wakefield, which are attracting more than 300,000 visitors a year. They’ve become almost like cultural community centres more than anything else. That is the ambition with this project. If you look at the Royal Festival Hall in London its foyer is always packed.”

He admitted there were “severe urban challenges” with the site, currently occupied by empty offices. He added: “You need a high volume of seating with concert halls, but they normally just stick out. Rather than have a big blank box, our solution is to turn the roof into a classical colonnade, which also has the advantage of becoming a place where people can go up and look out over the city. The designs have been produced after continuous dialogue with the council.

“There has been an understanding that the venue has to be a certain size and that it will not hide behind Dundas House. That is unavoidable.”

Edinburgh has spent a quarter of a century trying to get new concert hall developments off the ground. But, to the dismay of music fans in the city, various schemes have failed to get off the ground, while several existing venues have closed down.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has been the driving force of the Impact Centre project after a long search for a suitable site for a purpose-built home.

The city council has been involved involve in talks with the SCO and other parties, including promoters and developers, amid huge debate over what size of new venue is viable given the close proximity of Glasgow. A favourite for many years was Leith Docks, particularly after the MTV Europe Music Awards ceremony was lured to a gap site next to Ocean Terminal.

However the double blow of the city’s property crash and the postponement of the tram link to Leith saw those hopes dashed.

Ironically, Leith is currently basking in the limelight of the Edinburgh International Festival’s return to its long-neglected theatre building after 30 years, with Pop and rock acts like Mogwai, Lau, Django Django, King Creosote and Karine Polwart drawing huge crowds. The council has committed £1m for a full revamp but the price tag is yet to be worked out.

The other pressing project is a replacement for the Ross Bandstand. A winning design was chosen just over a year ago, but plans have stalled amid wrangling over how a new “Ross Pavilion” will be run and concerns over the prospect of 200 events a year being staged there.