Edinburgh's New St James Quarter tower is a giant toilet brush holder that assaults our historic cityscape – Susan Morrison

For the past few years I’ve watched the great cranes working up at the St James Centre, swinging around majestically like a family of mechanical dinosaurs.

By Susan Morrison
Friday, 28th May 2021, 4:55 am
Susan Morrison preferred the view of the new St James Quarter when the cranes were up (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

In winter, the red lights looked positively cheerful. In December they’d look like minimalist Christmas decorations as designed by someone grim and Swedish.

Now they have gone. Their work is done. I liked the cranes better.

Let's be honest, the building flattened to make way for this new retail and hospitality experience was no beauty. Those grey concrete walls and that dark glass. There was the tang of the Soviets about it.

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John Lewis, the cosiest shop in the world, lurked behind a windowless facade. It was like sending a twinkly-eyed Hielan’ granny to live in Castle Greyskull. They did put more windows in later, but they also installed that revolving door which doubled as a defence mechanism. Few rampaging hordes, Viking or otherwise, could have negotiated that door in a hurry.

St James’s only redeeming feature is the fact that you couldn’t really see it most of the time.

Forget that now. Here, in our city centre, a modern icon has arisen. George Street has a new neighbour. St Andrews Square is now dominated by something that, yes, looks like a giant doggy poo, spray-painted gold by a conceptual artist who got a whack of cash from Creative Scotland to make their vision come to life.

It’s a vision now seared into our eyeballs wherever we see it, which is all the time, because this tacky curly wurly can be seen from virtually everywhere in the city.

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It’s screaming for mini-versions to be flogged in tartan shops from Inverness to Hawick. Make two, stick a couple of holes in the top and you've got yourself a salt ‘n’ pepper set as a memento of your visit to Scotland.

The first time I saw images of this behemoth, it was what they call an “artist’s impression”. My immediate impression was “you’re kidding, right?”.

At that time I heard this design heralded as “bold”, which is always a dangerous word to put in front of “architecture”. Designers who use it tend to spaff on about “challenging” and “complementary” and, my favourite, “buildings having a conversation with their surroundings”. Mate, if that monster is having a chat with the elegant New Register House, it's going to be chilly, challenging and not at all complimentary.

Oh, but they say, there will be wonderful views from those rooftop bars. Of course the vistas will be amazing. You won’t be able to see it for a start.

No-one expects our cities to be pickled in aspic. Old buildings come down and new buildings go up. People don’t like change, and have a habit of taking it out on the new. The Scottish Parliament building still raises hackles today, although I have to say I like it and it’s growing into the landscape.

This giant toilet brush holder assaults the cityscape it sits in.

Well, we’ll have to live with it for now, with its shiny golden cladding, so reminiscent of that cheap jewellery Ratners used to sell. Stained your skin green, as I recall.

Let's take bets on how many harsh Scottish winters that Ratners' gold takes before it needs a refresh?

Bags I four in the sweepstake.

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