Affectionately nicknamed the “hobbit house” design, American architect wHY has proposed a series of grass-topped venues that “grow” from the landscape to form a new pavilion and visitor centre in the gardens.
And design director of wHY Grounds landscape studio, Mark Thomann said accessibility for everyone via a new promenade defines this “dream project”.
He said: “We asked what is missing? We heard that while the gardens are a great place to be, there is a lack of accessibility or connection.”
wHY – with partners GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth and Alan Cumming, Aaron Hicklin, Beatrice Colin, Peter Ross, Alison Watson and Adrian Turpin – aims to connect the visitor centre and theatre with a promenade between the Royal Mile and West Princes Street.
“This promenade is a linear park that connects a series of green spaces throughout the gardens,” Mr Thomann explained. “To maximise the green space and minimise the impact of the architecture, we created green roofs and vistas.”
This includes an expanded bridge over the railway – the children’s bridge – which the designers hope will build on the tradition of watching trains as they enter Waverley Station.
The design also gives a nod to the gardens’ origins as the Nor Loch, with a new flexible events plaza with play water surfaces.
And the concert arena itself is suitable for hosting events across the spectrum. The indoor and outdoor spaces both have retractable stages, windows and seating to allow flexibility and variety without taking up garden space.
But much of the design focuses on maintaining the day-to-day function of the gardens.
Mr Thomann, who first fell in love with the city when visiting his wife at university in St Andrews 20 years ago, said: “We have been working with the renowned horticulturist Noel Kingsbury to create gardens with year-round interest that have high value for biodiversity and are low maintenance.
“At its core, it will remain a retreat – a daily space for families, to meet a friend, to find some time alone in nature.”
The front of the glazed visitor centre, embedded into the gardens, will provide a covered viewing area as well as an event and festivals space. There will also be community rooms, toilets, a garden cafe and community facilities for arts and culture.
The designs of all seven shortlisted firms are on display in a free-to-enter exhibition at the City Art Centre, Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm until July 30. The public are invited to share their views on the project via a survey at the exhibition or by e-mailing the competition organisers, Malcolm Reading Consultants, at firstname.lastname@example.org.