Comment: New designs strike a happy balance

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the plight of the City Observatory has long been a curious anomaly in a city which rightly prides itself on being one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

It is partly a sign of the wealth of fascinating history in Edinburgh that an 18th-century observatory with close links with the Enlightenment can lie empty for years without anyone kicking up an almighty fuss. Every day, visitors to Calton Hill peer over the walls surrounding it and ask questions of passers-by about the intriguing-looking building and the secrets it might hold inside.

Most head back down the hill with no more clue about the pioneering role those who worked there played in astronomy and timekeeping than they did when they arrived.

The announcement of Scottish Government support for the 
£3.5 million plan to restore it as an art gallery and visitor attraction means it is a step closer to being fully opened to the public for the first time. That has to be warmly welcomed.

Any development on Calton Hill needs to be very sensitively managed. The breezy hilltop is one of those wonderful “wild” places that Edinburgh specialises in where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of the city below without walking more than a mile.

The designs, which we feature over the page, appear to strike the happy balance between opening the building up and creating a viable attraction without overwhelming its surroundings.

The old observatory may not be as celebrated as some of architect William Playfair’s more prominent creations, such as the National Gallery on The Mound, but it deserves to be treasured nonetheless.

Creating an art gallery and visitor centre which celebrates the Capital’s part in the scientific revolution of the 18th century is a fitting way of securing its future and adding appropriately to the attractions of Calton Hill.