ONE of the Capital’s most historic public stairways has been reopened for the first time in 12 years thanks to an installation created by one of Scotland’s leading artists.
High School Yards steps, which link the Cowgate and High School Yards, were closed in 2003 after reports of anti-social behaviour.
This demonstrates how neglected areas of the World Heritage Site can be transformedAdam Wilkinson
Their restoration is the result of an 18-month partnership between the city council, Edinburgh World Heritage and the University of Edinburgh.
As well as conservation work – including the renewal of railings and the addition of gates to close the area at night – the steps will feature a bespoke art installation by former Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes.
It boasts an infrared camera which captures the movement of visitors, projecting their silhouettes onto a large LED mesh screen and revealing a hidden section of the stairs.
Short clips – created by Mr Innes in collaboration with young adults from the nearby Panmure St Ann’s Centre and artists Catherine Payton and Tom Nolan – also play on loop when the stairs are empty.
Adam Wilkinson, Edinburgh World Heritage director, said: “This exciting project demonstrates again how neglected areas of the World Heritage Site can be transformed to benefit the city, through an innovative mixture of heritage conservation and public art and collaborative working.
“Our funding has helped to conserve these Victorian steps to the highest standard, but Callum’s work fundamentally transforms our perceptions of this space, adding both enchantment and safety.
“The High School Yards Steps have now been reclaimed as a useful public space, supporting an oft-overlooked area of the Old Town.”
The regeneration was also part of designs for Edinburgh University’s new Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) at High School Yards – billed as Scotland’s only low-carbon innovation hub and the UK’s greenest historic building.
ECCI executive director Andy Kerr said: “The regeneration of the steps opens up routes that connect the newly renovated ECCI building and surrounding area to the Cowgate, Drummond St and other parts of the city at large.
“ECCI’s core aims are built around bringing people together to solve the complex problems associated with climate change, so it is absolutely fitting to have improved the connectivity and sustainability of the building, and in such an innovative and creative way.”
Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport and environment leader, who helped open the steps, added: “The incredible transformation of High School Yards steps is testament to the partnership working by all those involved, including members of the local community.
“The vast improvement to the area, including Callum Innes’ innovative artwork, will not only create a safer and more attractive atmosphere for those working, living and studying nearby, but will enhance this lesser-used end of the Cowgate.”