City Observatory Complex Edinburgh, Calton Hill Building Images, Architect, Architecture

City Observatory Complex Calton Hill

Building Development on Calton Hill in Edinburgh design by Malcolm Fraser Architects

17 Apr 2015

Design: Malcolm Fraser Architects

Exciting plans for the redevelopment of the City Observatory complex on Calton Hill are revealed.

Leading contemporary visual art organisation, Collective is working in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council to redevelop the City Observatory complex as their new permanent home.

City Observatory

City Observatory Complex on Calton Hill Design

The City Observatory sits on Calton Hill, one of Scotland’s first public parks, commands the Old and New Towns and is a jewel in the crown of the UNESCO Edinburgh World Heritage Site. It was the birthplace of astronomy and timekeeping in Edinburgh and is one of the City’s most iconic locations and is a vital component in the group of buildings on Calton Hill which are both architecturally and culturally significant in the history of the city and the nation, and contribute to Edinburgh being regarded as the Athens of the North.

City Observatory

The City Observatory was designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818 as a temple to the Enlightenment, scientific innovation and discovery. It is of great architectural importance but requires major investment and conservation as it is in a state of disrepair and on the Buildings at Risk Register.

With the City of Edinburgh Council, Collective will work to conserve and reinstate the original 19th century Playfair designs, display and interpret the telescopes and astronomical instruments, restore the grounds and enable full public access to the entire site for the first time in its history. A new-build subterranean gallery space and restaurant will be created. Award winning Edinburgh architectural practice Malcolm Fraser Architects are the project architects.

This world-class complex will combine innovative art and iconic heritage, creating a new synergy, for the enjoyment of and benefit to the public and place contemporary art at the heart of one of Edinburgh’s most popular locations.

City Observatory

The first phase of work was completed in 2014 with the restoration and opening of the City Dome, where Collective shows the work of established and international artists who have not exhibited in Scotland before. This space has attracted huge numbers of visitors to the site interested in the historic building and its exhibits of contemporary culture.

Whilst the majority of funding for this £3.5m project has been raised, Collective is continuing to raise funds in order to start on site at the end of 2015 and aim to open up the entire City Observatory walled complex at the end of 2016.

Two open days are being held at Collective in the City Dome on the 17th and 18th April (12-4pm) for the public to talk to staff and view the plans. The full plans will be available through the City of Edinburgh Council Planning Portal and more information is available on Collective’s website:

City Observatory Complex on Calton Hill by Collective Architecture

City Observatory

Kate Gray, Collective’s Artistic Director, said:

“Historically observatories are places to observe the stars and make scientific discoveries but Collective’s vision is to be a new kind of City Observatory, a place to look at art and view the city that art was made to be seen in. We will bring people together to engage with art, science, and Edinburgh’s heritage. This unique and iconic place will be fully opened for the first time to the public providing a space for reflection on the past, present and importantly the future through creating an exciting environment for both artists and visitors.”
Cllr Richard Lewis, Culture and Sport Convenor for the City of Edinburgh Council said:

“With some of the most breathtaking views in Edinburgh if not Scotland, Calton Hill is an iconic part of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage site. The City Observatory, known as the birthplace of astronomy and timekeeping, is an architectural and cultural gem. Under Collective’s redevelopment plans, the Observatory’s original 19th Century William Playfair designs would be reinstated to create a hub of art, science, history and leisure right in the heart of the Athens of the North for residents and visitors to enjoy.”

Malcolm Fraser of Malcolm Fraser Architects:

“We love thinking about how artists will use this site and believe that the creative interaction between art and science, that the Collective’s rejuvenation of the site brings, is visionary and exciting. Art might just deliver something forward-looking for astronomy that is thrillingly-complementary to the site’s history.

Our concern has been with the evolution of the site. Robert Adam urged James Craig – architect for the New Town and the site’s first designer – to consider it as a fortified enclosure with towers at its corners. Playfair’s temple precinct magnificently advanced that vision, except at the north-west corner, where the site breaks down into minor buildings.

We propose a Pavilion there, engaging the wall and with inspirational views out over Edinburgh to the Forth Bridges and back to Playfair’s temple. The Pavilion also encloses a west lawn, for sitting out, and a court to the north, edged by a new Gallery which is set into the hill, with a terrace over. We repair the whole site, recovering the subdivided interior of Playfair’s main building and setting all within rising, spiralling paths.”

City Observatory

City Observatory Complex on Calton Hill images / information from Malcolm Fraser Architects

The City Observatory on Calton Hill
City Observatory Building, Calton Hill
photo : Jonathon Fowler
City Observatory Building, Calton Hill
Edinburgh World Heritage awards a grant of over £300,000 to Collective towards the restoration of the City Observatory complex – the ensemble of astronomical buildings by William Henry Playfair on Calton Hill, central Edinburgh.

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