Heritage watchdog gives cautious welcome to Edinburgh's 'exciting but risky' film temple vision
Edinburgh’s long-running heritage body has given a cautious welcome to plans to create an 11-storey new home for the Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter.
The Cockburn Association said Festival Square, which is earmarked for the £50m development, had been a “non-civic space” ever since it was created in the mid-1980s, comparing its architecture to East Berlin.
Ken Hay, chief executive of the Filmhouse and the festival, has declared that the proposed redevelopment would create “a 21st century temple for film” which would revive the fortunes of the square.
Cockburn Association director Terry Levinthal compared the new building to the award-winning extension to the National Museum of Scotland, which was completed more than 20 years ago.
He pledged that the group had an “open mind” over the redevelopment of the square because it was so disliked, adding that the Filmhouse was “a well-loved Edinburgh institution.”
Mr Levinthal admitted there were clear “risks and challenges” over the proposed designs, which envisage a 121 ft tall building, which would be higher than both the Sheraton Grand Hotel and the Usher Hall. However he said an “encouraging and positive” approach had been taken so far by the film festival and the Filmhouse to consult as widely as possible on their plans for a new home.
Mr Levinthal said: “I think this proposal will generate supporters and detractors in the way that the extension to the National Museum of Scotland did in the 1990s. We need to approach it very much with an open mind. There is a lot to discuss. In one sense, it is an exciting proposal, but in another, it carries a number of risks and challenges.
“It’s very early days. We have been in discussion with Ken Hay about the proposals and have agreed to have an open consultation, which is encouraging and positive. There are going to be important issues to look at in terms of the form, scale, content and massing of the building, as well as its presence in Festival Square. We’ve already have some discussions about them and will be engaging positively with those issues.
“But there is no way that anybody could conclude that Festival Square is a useful public space at the moment.
“There needs to be a degree of discussion and care about it becoming a potential building site. There will be positives and negatives to come from that.
“We have been very concerned about the commodification of public spaces in Edinburgh and are very conscious of where this proposals sits, however we also recognise that Festival Square is one of the most unsuccessful civic spaces in the city.”
The proposals for the new "film temple" received a mixed reception on social media after the Filmhouse and film festival launched an official consultation process ahead of detailed plans being submitted to the city council later this year.
It is hoped work will be able to get underway by 2023 and be completed two years later if planning permission and funding can be secured.
Ginnie Atkinson, a former managing director of the festival, said: "The current Filmhouse building is not sustainable - it’s a nightmare to maintain and not good for customers.
"The square in question is now proven to be a useless public space and a mess when it is used for pop up events. This is a great scheme and would be a positive addition."
Edinburgh-based filmmaker Mark Cousins, a former director of the film festival, told his Twitter followers: "A world-class movie pleasure dome, film centre, cinematheque, meeting place, festival hub for Edinburgh and Scotland. Am very for this lens-shaped plan."
However Kevin Williamson, author, publisher and co-founder of art collective Neu! Reekie!, said: "Kill the architects and everyone connected with this. Then throw their bones into the Thames."
City council leader Adam McVey said: "The Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse bring art to our city that you can’t get anywhere else in Edinburgh.
"This week we’ve already had the announcement of a new film and TV studio in Leith and this new hub further builds on our credentials as a beacon for film."
Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: "This is another fantastic development for the city centre and especially for the west end. Well done to the Filmhouse and the film festival for the vision and proposals."