Edinburgh's St James Quarter: Its skyline-changing architecture is beautiful and I love it – Vladimir McTavish

Some call it The Walnut Whip. Some have christened it The Golden T**d. Others have been much less complimentary.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 4:55 pm
The new St James Quarter has angered some over the change to Edinburgh's skyline (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

However, love it or loathe it, there is absolutely no way one can ignore the latest addition to Edinburgh’s skyline, the golden swirl that sits on top of the St James Quarter.

I personally fall into the former camp. I am a fan. How many modern shopping malls have a work of art on the roof?

I love the way it bookends the castle on the city’s skyline when viewed from the north side of town, how it nests almost unnoticed under Arthur’s Seat when seen from another angle. How its burnished gold has shone like a mirror in the summer sunshine of the past weeks.

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How from another perspective it resembles a golden ribbon, unfurling from the clouds above, bringing sparkle to our grey leaden skies. Walk down certain streets in the city centre, and it is completely hidden from view. Turn a corner, and there it is, suddenly dominating the surrounding rooftops.

Yet what I love most is how it has annoyed so many people.

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The Not-In-My-Back-Yard tendency that resides in in Edinburgh in general, and the New Town in particular, has been predictably quick to condemn it as a monstrosity, or a carbuncle or worse.

It has been voted in one poll as the ugliest building in the world. Whoever took part in that survey obviously have very short memories as the old Saint James Centre which previously stood on the same site was hardly a thing of beauty.

It was a disgusting piece of 1960s’ concrete brutalism, which looked as if someone had covered a giant cardboard box in human excrement, left it to dry out and then put some shops inside it. Anything is an improvement on that.

Basically, many people in Edinburgh do not like anything new.

Twenty years ago, the construction of the Scottish Parliament was met with similar outrage. Now, a mere two decades later, it is a source of much pride and a regular stop-off point for tour buses.

People doubtless objected to the building of Edinburgh Castle at the time, on the grounds that its lack of architectural merit ruined the impressive hulking rock on which it was built.

I reckon if the Cockburn Society had been around in the 1840s, they would have objected to the building of the Scott Monument, denouncing it as a hideous piece of fake Gothic architecture that destroyed the natural beauty of Princes Street Gardens.

Let us not forget that Princes Street Gardens were only landscaped in the 18th century when the Nor’ Loch was drained. It is highly probable that petitions were signed as people flew into an apoplectic rage at the prospect of their open sewer being turned into a public park.

One can only imagine the number of residents of Mary King’s Close who wrote angry letters to the papers, demanding to know exactly where the council expected them to empty their chamber pots.

Edinburgh is a living city, not a museum. Let us embrace the new while cherishing the ancient charms of this place we all hold dear.

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