New McEwan Hall entrance has shades of Louvre

Artist's impression of the glass addition to McEwan Hall. Picture: contributed
Artist's impression of the glass addition to McEwan Hall. Picture: contributed
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PLANS to install a Louvre-inspired glass entranceway as part of the £3.4 million revamp of McEwan Hall have been revealed by university chiefs.

The sprawling basement beneath the main hall is to be opened up and a new entrance built to access it from Bristo Square – similar to the new National Museum of Scotland entrance on nearby Chambers Street.

Other key aspects are understood to include bringing the currently unused second tier back into use, providing hundreds of extra seats.

Key to university bosses’ plans is returning the landmark graduation hall to “its former glory”.

However, it is understood the proposals have been met with a lukewarm reception from city heritage body The Cockburn Association, which previously voiced concerns that the basement doors could become the main entrance to the A-listed building.

A source within the organisation likened the glass pavillion plans to a “subway station” before stating that Cockburn members “need to be convinced” ahead of talks over the application.

A leading city architect, who asked not to be named, also questioned the entranceway. They said: “In Edinburgh because it is a heritage city there is a way of doing things with glass so as to pretend it isn’t there or make the works somehow invisible, but glass is reflective and collects dirt which just draws attention to it anyway.

“Within weeks this glass pavilion will be covered in pigeon droppings and other rubbish.”

He added: “I can understand the comparisons to the Louvre, but it’s the pyramid and shape that is inspiring at the Louvre, not the glass.” 
However, in a design statement to council planners, project architect LDN states that it believes the current main access is “not an appropriate entrance to such a magnificent building” and that a new opening through a glass pavillion “is obvious and more welcoming”.

Last October, specialist contractors began the first phase restoring and preserving the exterior of the graduation hall.

The two-year project, scheduled to run until summer next year, will also focus on erosion of the building’s soft sandstone along with repairing decorated leaded windows. The venue has proved an increasingly popular attraction and, in 2010, hosted comedian John Bishop when he became the biggest-selling artist in the history of the Fringe, attracting 29,000 fans during his run.

A university spokesman said: “Our goal is to restore the McEwan Hall to its former glory and, at the same time, take the opportunity to increase the utilisation and make this splendid ceremonial hall more accessible to the wider 
public, thus fulfilling the original vision of its benefactor, Sir William McEwan.

“This restoration will create new spaces that can house for conferences, exhibitions and other university events so more people can enjoy a range of cultural, educational and community activities in this 
magnificent venue.”

Classical lines

THE university’s vision is to reinvent the McEwan Hall, opening the ceremonial building for future audiences while restoring it to its 19th century brilliance.

Located in Bristo Square, the hall was built between 1888 and 1897 thanks to a private donation of £115,000 by the founder of the Edinburgh brewing firm and MP for Central Edinburgh, Sir William McEwan. It was his wish for the magnificent ceremonial hall to be made available to the people of the city.

It was designed by Scottish architect, Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, in a decorative Italian Renaissance style. The exterior was completed in 1894 and the interior in 1897.