Dance Base - dance space: each of four studios is modelled around a different type of dance. Furthermore the architect is a dancer too and Malcolm Fraser describes the building with genuine passion. The studios are scattered in section and plan up the slope from the historic Grassmarket.
Dance Base is a building primarily about spaces. Thus the lack of overt entry from the Grassmarket is suitable, though, since opening, a street unit and signage have reduced the humbleness. You enter the National Centre for Dance and walk up a traditional pend, then turn right to the stairs. Most people look up at this point to gaze though the layers of fritted glass (screenprinted with ceramic dots). At First Floor you reach an unpretentious reception: from here most visitors are again drawn to the light, coming here from the Principal Studio. Each space has different proportions, but also levels of light.
From reception you can go back up the stairs to Studio 2, follow the ramp to Studios 3 & 4 or enter the Principal Studio. The latter is suffused by light and snuggly wrapped in wood. Views through the gently-pitched glass roof to the Castle are sumptous and the lights and elegant steel structure are unobtrusively detailed. The warmth of the Dance Base timber-lined walls and mirror images counteract the coolness of the sky.
From here you can take steps up to Studios 3 & 4 or go up the ramp between a deep red wall and the rough stones of the Flodden wall. At the top of both we reach a small lobby off which are a meditation space, changing and toilets. Up some stairs and we reach another opening out of circulation space. To the West is Studio 4, and to the East, Studio 3: this space reminds me of Louis Kahn's architecture - formally square, pyramidal roof with central oculus, concealed light around perimeter and strong weighty concrete crosses at corners. A simple garden sits outside.
Studio 4 is filled with light and, as the smallest Studio, focuses on individual learning. An angled soffit - cut with lighting slots - floating on clerestorey windows pushes your vision up and out: the view to the south overlooks the rooftops towards the Art School. From the Dance Base terrace you see an empty courtyard below: this must be filled - let's hope by dancers. Fraser's published ideas for the Grassmarket - in a nutshell, replace cars with dancers - are to be encouraged. He has already transformed a mediocre 'backlands' site into a rich cluster of crafted spaces. Murray Grigor described Dance Base as 'bookended by boozers': this is indeed a welcome slice of culture in a street of pubs and cafes.
RIAS Award for Architecture information re Dance Base: 2002 WINNER Dance Base
Architect: Malcolm Fraser Architects
Client: Dance Base
Completed: Jun 2001
Project cost: £5m
Four dance studios on a dog-legged site employing a combination of use of existing buildings, new build and the natural landscape. The Dance Base project was funded by the Scottish Arts Council Lottery, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and City of Edinburgh Council.