Lost Edinburgh: ‘Death mask’ preservation at Dewar Place may need rethink

The proposed development at Dewar Place. Picture: Contributed
The proposed development at Dewar Place. Picture: Contributed
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Last month it was announced that the new £150 million hotel and office development at Dewar Place, a stone’s throw from the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, is close to becoming a reality.

A full proposal for the project is expected to be submitted within the coming weeks, with the plans already “approved in principle”.

The facade of the church at Greenside Place was preserved. Picture: TSPL

The facade of the church at Greenside Place was preserved. Picture: TSPL

Dubbed Exchange 2, the plans include a new four star business hotel, new offices, a business centre, a catering academy and hotel training school intended to provide jobs and training for 200 young people.

READ MORE: ‘Game changer’ Edinburgh hotel complex gets go ahead

Digital sketches show that the new build will, as expected, incorporate the facade of the former Dewar Place Electricity Generating Station building.

Hewn from the same red sandstone as the nearby Caledonian Hotel, this handsome edifice was constructed in 1897.

Today, only its B-listed shell remains, its original innards having been entirely gutted out.

Described as a ‘game changer’ by Julian Newiss, chairman of Catalyst Capital, the images show that the new development will tower high over the Victorian building and will be constructed using modern materials, chiefly steel and glass.

It is at this point that I must confess that the juxtaposition leaves me cold.

The merging together of the old and new, in this case, just doesn’t work. I liken it to wearing an expensive suit jacket with a pair of Matalan jammie bottoms.

And it’s not just me.

Comments on the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page, which I am administrator of, lean overwhelmingly into the dislike category.

Now, anything which will add jobs and prosperity to Edinburgh is a good thing. There is no argument about that.

And on paper at least I like the concept of salvaging the past and incorporating it into new projects. The problem is, it rarely works.

A few years back there was the case of the 150-year-old facade of the Lady of Glenorchy Church at Greenside which had stood as a half-demolished ruin for at least a couple of decades.

The Glasshouse hotel was constructed to its rear and a nightclub and restaurant utilising the remaining space.

Many people thought and still think that this development is fantastic, but I’m not so easily convinced by this notion.

To me, it’s as if this modern building, the facade of which is mainly composed of large glass panels, is wearing a macabre death mask from a bygone era.

At first glance, the proposed development at Dewar Place generates much the same effect, except on a much larger scale.

One Lost Edinburgh follower said they’d prefer to see the 1897 building pulled down rather than see it dwarfed and spoiled by the significantly taller modern office-hotel complex that is to come.

In this case, it saddens me to say that Exchange 2 overwhelms the existing structure, and perhaps it would be better to let go of the past.

In my view, façadism only works when the original build remains uncompromised by the new development.

Two good examples of this theory can be found on Princes Street: the Apple Store, built within the shell of the former Woolworth’s building, and Waverley Gate, which incorporates the old GPO building.

The proposed development at Dewar Place simply lacks the required spark.

If they can’t find a hybrid that works then it would be better to raze the old and allow the architect the freedom they need to make this site their own.

All thoughts are welcome.