Old Town Fire Edinburgh, Building, Architect, Project, Images, Design, Info

Edinburgh Fire : Architecture

Southbridge & Cowgate : Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Old Town Fire

Old Town Fire Ideas Competition

Edinburgh Fire winning submissions

Now this architecture competition is over this page will continue to grow as a resource

An exhibition ran at the Matthew Gallery, Chambers St until 11 Apr
then at the RIAS until 30 May
then at EWHT until Jul, all 2003

view from top of tenement on east side of south bridge 11.02.03
edinburgh fire
photo © adrian welch

View looking east down the Cowgate 25.01.03
Old Town Fire
photograph © adrian welch

Gilded Balloon arcade about to be hoarded up 10.01.03
old town fire
photo © dan frydman of inigo media

South Bridge Leisureland
Old Town Fire Edinburgh
image © adrian welch

All Photos below are unlinked, apologies:

old town fire
view south down blair st

fire, edinburgh demolition old town fire
details from blair st

old town fire
context of Niddry St South: runs parallel to East of South Bridge

old town fire Old Town Fire Edinburgh
east side of south bridge where it crosses the cowgate: south (left), north (right)

old town fire
view from south end of blair st to south-east: south bridge to top

old town fire
view from south end of blair st to south: kininmonth’s adam house top right

12-17.02.03 all photos above © khairul khalifah

old town fire
View looking east down the Cowgate 25.01.03

old town fire
view west along cowgate, fire site to left

old town fire
view from south end of blair st to south: kininmonth‘s adam house top right

old town fire
view from south end of blair st to south-east: south bridge to top

old town fire old town fire
views from top of tenement on east side of south bridge

old town fire

view south along south bridge, fire site to right
old town fire old town fire
east side of south bridge where it crosses the cowgate: north (left), south (right)

11.02.03 all photos above © adrian welch

old town fire
25.01.03 © adrian welch

old town fire

Global Architecture Websites that listed this competition:

aleph (france) www.kubos.org
archioz (australia) www.archioz.com.au
archguide (belgium) www.nav.be
architectureroom (uk) www.thearchitectureroom.com
nextroom (austria) www.nextroom.at
arkitera (turkey) www.arkitera.com
arquired (mexico) www.arquired.com.mx
kvasir (norway) http://search.kvasir.no
todoarquitectura (spain, central & south america) www.todoarquitectura.com
soloarquitectura (latin america) www.soloarquitectura.com/noticias.html
arqchile (chile) www.arqchile.cl/concursos.htm
archijob (israel) www.archijob.com

old town fire
picture © adrian welch

southbridge.org.uk is an unofficial competition site for architects, design students and the public to suggest ways to use the site.

It will be open to anyone, wherever you are to submit your ideas.

To take part, visit the site, enter your name and email address and we’ll send out information on the competition rules and prizes!

International Competition by:
inigo media + www.edinburgharchitecture.co.uk

“Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be. Its magnificent architecture shifts from the lofty buildings of its medieval Old Town as they tumble down the spine of the Royal Mile to the grace of the Georgian New Town“. Robert Louis Stevenson

“Social inequality is nowhere more ostentatious than at Edinburgh…to look over the South Bridge and see the Cowgate below full of crying hawkers, is to view one rank of society from another in the twinkling of an eye”. Robert Louis Stevenson

old town fire
picture © adrian welch

useful link

edinburgh fire: commentmany of the links may now malfunction so they have been left but ‘unlinked’
“The Cockburn Association has criticised building height restrictions imposed by city officials on the Cowgate site, which was devastated by the Old Town blaze in December.”


news story

“buildings destroyed in Edinburgh’s Old Town fire would be replaced with “simple, modern and contextual architecture enclosing a central square and incorporating historic closes”. Malcolm Fraser revealed his vision for the renewal of the site…and said he had no intention of building a “grand gesture” or a monument to the past…the replacement would involve both traditional stone masonry as well as more modern elements and glass to allow lots of light into the site. The heart of the new development, which is expected to be the same height as its predecessor, will be defined by a central square, from which there will fan out a series of new closes and broad steps linking the site to the Cowgate and surrounding streets. The replacement plans were revealed as Edinburgh City Council officially handed back the site to a development company formed by the owners of the Cowgate site…it also emerged that a prominent player in the development consortium, Edinburgh University, has yet to sign up, possibly hindering further progress…Mr Fraser said he would like to see a series of artists’ studios on the site, as there was a lack of them in the city, and he hoped that much of the re-build could be completed in traditional stone, although the consortium was looking to the help of heritage trusts to assist with the cost of such materials…The architect also wants to restore a gable at the entrance to the Cowgate, which collapsed in the wake of the fire.

Martin Hulse, the director of the Cockburn Association, said: “It is fantastic that Malcolm Fraser is involved. The South Bridge elevation must be stone. South Bridge is down on its knees and this needs to be the catalyst”.
see May news

malcolm fraser

“Karen Koren will stage dozens of festival shows at two new Gilded Balloon venues just off the Cowgate – yards from where her offices and club once stood. “

Cowgate Brief
“Edinburgh’s Cowgate is to reopen to traffic on Monday for the first time since December’s devastating Old Town blaze – four weeks ahead of schedule…..Officials have been hosting workshops to thrash out the future of the site between owners of fire-hit properties, residents’ groups, conservation bodies and architecture experts. The council is to prepare a blueprint outlining principles for the restoration and future development of the site. The authority has declared that any planning applications for the site will “have to comply with the finalised brief”.”


Trondheim connection
The Trondheim fire was within wooden houses right in the heart of the city. None of them were listed, but some of them had architectural values of their own and all of them contributed of course to the general townscape as it was one of the few remaining blocks of wooden houses. The landowners have launched a architecture competition in which four companies have been shortlisted and are due to come up with final projects quite soon I think. Unfortunately all the written material on this is in Norwegian, and for some reason the newspaper that have most information on this have taken away the link to a slide show from the fire. But you can get a look at www.adressa.no/trondheim/bybrannen where several articles, and including some pictures are posted.
The final projects from the shortlisted companies in the architecture competition in Trondheim is now launched at www.adressa.no/bildegallerier
The article (in Norwegian) quotes one of the “traditionalists” who complains that the project is not in line with the existing cityscape, that nothing reminds him of the low wooden houses, that the buildings are too tall and the facades are too compact and massive. Representatives from the city council say that whoever wins will have to moderate/adjust the proposal according to opinions within the city council. Sounds just like Edinburgh, just replace wooden with stone!

21 Mar 2003

The Cowgate is to re-open four weeks ahead of schedule following the major fire in December 2002. The road will re-open to traffic and pedestrians at midday on Monday 24 March.

Demolition of damaged buildings is now complete, although some work will continue. This will include removing any loose masonry and weatherproofing the remaining structures. The current hoarding surrounding the area will be moved back to cordon off the site. This will allow access to resume through the Cowgate and from the bottom of Blair Street. Hasties Close will remain closed to through access until essential building work has been completed by the owners of the Faith club.

Work on the site has included careful demolition, sometimes by hand, of the affected buildings. Historic Scotland and the World Heritage Trust were consulted at every stage during the demolition works. The listed archways at the front of the Gilded Balloon building were saved and have been left in-situ. Demolition staff also managed to recover many valued mementoes and files from businesses on the site.

Prior to any demolition, a photographic survey of affected buildings was conducted. This will provide a permanent record of buildings that have been demolished. An extensive archaeological investigation was also carried out to record the buildings and area during the demolition process. This will also help to identify how the area has evolved into what it is today and could aid any future restoration plans.

Associated road repairs are now also complete and new street lights have been installed. The pedestrian crossing has been re-instated on the Cowgate near the site – opposite Hasties Close.

No one was injured either during the fire or in any site accident during the works.

Once the area has been made safe it will be handed back to the owners. The Council will prepare restoration and design principles for the site. These will indicate how the site should be developed in terms of reinstatement, new build and also the acceptable uses. These principles will be prepared in full consultation with interested parties. Any planning application(s) for the site will have to comply with the finalised brief.

Councillor Donald Anderson, Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council said: ‘We’d initially hoped to have the Cowgate open by Easter, and I’m delighted that we’ve surpassed all expectations. Making this fire-ravaged site safe has been no easy task and credit should go to all those who have worked long and hard to make it happen.

‘The future of the site is one we all await with anticipation, and I hope the owners continue to work together to fill this space with something suitably fitting.’

Glancing Vistas
“The winning design in a contest to breathe new life into the fire-hit Cowgate area incorporates a 12-storey modern tower and “historic” closes and wynds. West End architects Ron Galloway Associates was today revealed as the winner of an unofficial ideas competition to design a scheme for the gap site created by the devastating blaze in the Old Town in December……A spokesman for Ron Galloway Associates today said: “We are delighted and very pleased. “It is a modern development and very contemporary. There is lots of glass, but the buildings would be constructed from historical stonework. “It is a continuation of the Old Town’s closes, wynds and stairwells. There would be deep views through the site of the Tron and St Giles. “We have tried to keep the scheme within the scale of the area.”…. While the contest was an unofficial ideas competition, it is regarded as an important catalyst for any official development.”

“Tower named as top design for Old Town. The winning design in a contest to breathe new life into the fire-hit Cowgate area of Edinburgh incorporates a 12-storey tower and historic closes and wynds.”
Mach’s Harem
“A giant harem featuring the figures of six or seven 30ft nude women is set to dominate the site of the recent fire in the Old Town of Edinburgh.The sculptures, proposed by the artist David Mach, will be installed later this year if exhibition plans for the site achieve sufficient sponsorship.”

Ed Hollis on the South Bridge

Renderings are up on site for those last minute student entries from around the world that still can’t understand the site.

4 Mar 2003

The first step in preparing a planning brief for the site of Edinburgh’s Old Town fire has begun. The City of Edinburgh Council held a workshop yesterday (3 March 2003) with agencies and individuals with conservation and design expertise. A planning brief is advice prepared by planning officers for prospective developers.

Participants were able to discuss:
Uses within the redevelopment site
Design issues
Movement through the site
The process – how can redevelopment be achieved?

Many views were aired and discussed, but there did seem to be some consensus amongst the people taking part, particularly over the scale of the new development, and a continued mix of uses on the site.

A second workshop is being held on 10 March, involving representatives of local residents and businesses. The discussion from the workshops will then be pulled together into a planning brief, which will then go out for widespread public consultation. Any planning application(s) for the site will have to comply with the finalised brief.

Alan Henderson, the Council’s Head of Planning, said:
“Such a focused and constructive debate was vital in planning the future of this site. All the issues raised at the workshops will be fed into our draft planning brief. There seemed to be an all-round expectation that there is an opportunity for new buildings of a contemporary style in high quality materials that respect the surrounding townscape and are in keeping with the site’s World Heritage Status. Mixed use also seemed most appropriate to the participants, although there were concerns about the effects of noise and lack of natural light on any potential housing development.

‘Other ideas would help the flow of pedestrians within the area. These could possibly include a pedestrian route to link up South Bridge with the Cowgate, as well as opening up other closes and linking of streets.”

Councillor Bob Cairns, Convenor of the Planning Committee, The City of Edinburgh Council, said:
“It is important that we take every opportunity to consult with interested and affected parties. Having such expertise gathered together has been invaluable. Of course, we don’t yet have all the answers, but this workshop is a vital first step.

“The next step will be to listen to the views of the local community. Accommodating all the different aspirations will be no easy feat, but there is a sense that this is a great opportunity to give something back to the city.”

“City leaders have taken the first step in the reconstruction of the Old Town fire site. They have announced details of workshops where the plans for the future of the Cowgate will be thrashed out…planned to be held on March 3 and 10.”

story re competition & judges

“A faulty fuse box has been blamed for starting Edinburgh’s devastating Old Town fire”.

Blueprint for Change
‘Remember the Past, Think of the Future’
Article by Stuart Macdonald of The Lighthouse in Blueprint Feb 2003 page 74

“May I suggest that adventurous architects wait until they can go to the moon”.

“Owners of properties devastated by the blaze which hit the Old Town of Edinburgh are planning to set up their own company to revive the site”.

“It is encouraging news that the owners of properties destroyed or devastated by the Old Town fire are planning to set up their own company to help revive the site”.

“Security at the scene of the Old Town fire has been stepped up after repeated attempts by souvenir hunters and pub-goers to access the site”.

“John, the city council archaeologist in charge of the site, and Dave, from the specialist firm hired to carefully research it, pick their way across mounds of rubble and mud, expert eyes scanning every fragment in search of yet another clue”.

“The fire-hit part of Edinburgh’s Cowgate, which has been sealed off since last month’s devastating Old Town blaze, will reopen by the Easter weekend, it emerged yesterday”.

“Anyone planning to have a go at redesigning Edinburgh’s Cowgate would be well advised to spend some time at this show”.

Stuart Macdonald Comment

“Malcolm Fraser, who has won a string of top awards for his projects, confirmed he was in “tentative” discussion over the future of the site in the Cowgate”.

Council Deadline
“Owners of properties devastated by the Old Town fire are to be given a 12-month deadline to thrash out the future of the site before the city council begins moves to take control over it.
The council has warned it will launch proceedings for a compulsory purchase of the land between the Cowgate and South Bridge if talks stall.”


Modern Stamp
“What is needed is a vision for this historic thoroughfare that reintegrates it into the city centre and also puts a modern stamp upon it.”

the “gaping wound in the heart of the city”: current picture
“And now there are discussions underway over taking down the arched facade to the former Gilded Balloon building at the foot of Blair Street, numbering the stones, and placing them in storage for later incorporation in any new development of the area”.


“Organisers of a contest to breathe new life into the fire-ravaged Cowgate and South Bridge have received dozens of inquiries from as far afield as Hungary and China”.

Back to Work
“Demolition work was set to resume today following a holiday season break at the site of the Old Town blaze”.

Drink up
“A new campaign to limit the number of licensed premises allowed to reopen in Edinburgh’s fire-ravaged Cowgate has led to a fresh row over the best way forward for the area…the authority is being urged to ensure that any new developments provide affordable housing in the area at the expense of pubs and clubs.”

Return to Adam
“Further to the recent devastating fire in Edinburgh’s Old Town, I am sure there will be an effort to record all the relevant data and much discussion on the merits of duplicating the buildings will ensue, and rightly so. But may I suggest we resort to Robert Adam’s proposals for the reconstruction of the areas of the South Bridge and Cowgate now subject to demolition? I understand the then town council paid for his proposals, despite its rejection of the design, so the drawings should still be in the council’s archives and available for study”.

Peter Wilson on competitions
“One only has to think of plans to create a new architecture centre at Haymarket or an extension to the Central Library in the Cowgate to realise that even world-class architectural solutions are impossible to implement if the process is flawed. This is not to argue against the competition approach, but to caution against applying it prematurely”.

David Black on the Cons v Mods Debate
“The debate hinges on one question: when historic buildings are damaged by a catastrophic event should they give way to modern “signature” structures, or should the original be reinstated? In the case of Edinburgh’s gutted buildings there really ought to be no contest. The soaring tenement which arose in 1789 from its arcaded base in the Cowgate to become part of a unified South Bridge frontage was a component in a planned scheme first envisaged by Robert Adam, and relates to his Old College nearby. His design was not the one which was built – if it had been, we would have had an arcaded grand avenue on a par with the Rue de Rivoli in Paris – but the plainer version retained an Adamesque flavour, and pioneered the palace façade principle for buildings in mixed use which would become the leitmotiv of Edinburgh’s sophisticated urban neoclassicism….For traditionalists, the omens are not good. The council may be the official guardian of the architecture of the Scottish Enlightenment, but it is also pro-active as an urban developer through its property arm, EDI, and the municipal mindset is tenaciously renewalist”.

Collapse: forcing the agenda
“Parts of two fire hit buildings in the Cowgate have dramatically collapsed on to the street below, leaving surrounding structures dangerously unstable”.

Gordon Murray on the Royal Mile
“Alexander Stoddart (Letters, 18 December) is correct that “contemporary” is no longer acceptable in intelligent discourse, certainly not in Edinburgh, judging by the post-conflagration Cowgate correspondence”.

French Mayor

Competition Announcement

Intelligent Discourse?
“Reading Dr Stuart MacDonald’s article (Weekend, 14 December) on the “opportunities” set up for the Scottish architectural community in the cinders of Edinburgh’s Cowgate, I realised that, for him, the message has not sunk in that the word “contemporary” is no longer acceptable in intelligent discourse. It was fine to talk of “the contemporary” as opposed to “the historic” in architecture in the 1980s, but surely we have moved on now, to a more mature understanding of the limitations of such terms”.

Fire Competition

South Bridge
southbridge building: © adrian welch

“A new charitable trust could be formed from the ashes of Edinburgh’s disastrous Old Town fire to oversee the re-development of the burned-out site. A South Bridge Trust is being seen as the best way to bring together the diverse owners of the devastated buildings, heritage experts and local planners”.

South Bridge
southbridge buildings with crane: © adrian welch

“But we should not at this stage take blanket decisions that modern architecture has no place in the redevelopment or that every last stone should be preserved simply because it belonged to the previous Cowgate. Some of the charm of the Old Town is its mixture of styles and adaptation over the centuries. We have to have confidence in the architecture of our own age and our ability to redevelop sympathetically. We could end up not only with a better-looking Cowgate, but also with buildings which are better suited to the purposes they are used for in the 21st century”.

South Bridge
south bridge buildings: © adrian welch

“One proposal would be to hold an architectural competition, inviting design submissions from the across the globe”.
Edinburgh resident
“This is a chance to regain some of the innovative design of previous generations. It would be a disaster if a completely new development were built on the site.”
David Walker

South Bridge
south bridge buildings: © adrian welch

From Building (13/12/02)
Salvage from Edinburgh fire to be used in rebuilding: Remnants of listed buildings will be recovered and used in the reconstruction of Edinburgh’s historic Cowgate district, which was gutted by a fire at the weekend.

Andrew Marr:
Now the debate has started about rebuilding. There are few spots in central Edinburgh, Britain’s most beautiful city, where good new buildings would make things better. This, thank God, is one.

“A major architectural contest may be held to come up with a development to replace buildings devastated in the Old Town blaze. The suggestion, by council leader Donald Anderson, came as a row broke out over the prospect of modern structures replacing the historic facades. Mr Anderson has mooted the idea of a competition as a way of restoring the “vibrancy” to the Cowgate area, but insisted heritage organisations would be heavily involved in talks on the area’s future. But the World Monuments Fund and UNESCO, which oversees the capital’s World Heritage Site status, said today they were “deeply concerned” that the cityscape of the Old Town could be lost. Bob Cairns, the council’s planning convener, said only one of the affected buildings – the Gilded Balloon – was actually listed, and that the rest, which date back to 1792, were “of no particular architectural merit”.”
“The weekend blaze ripped out the heart of the Old Town’s World Heritage site – damaging at least ten buildings. The flames have forever changed the face of the Cowgate….building under threat includes Adam House in Chambers Street. This building was designed by William Kininmonth and built in 1954-55 to serve as an examination centre”.


Scottish Parliament

Missoni Hotel Edinburgh

Harvey Nichols

Register House

Old College

Point Hotel

World Heritage Site

Edinburgh Architecture Tours

Comments / photos for the Edinburgh Old Town Fire Architecture page welcome

Edinburgh Fire Building : page