Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Photo, Architect, Design, History, Picture

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh

Building on Nicholson St, Scotland, design by Playfair architect

RIAS Awards / RIBA Awards for Scotland 2016 shortlisted – 24 Mar 2016

9 Dec 2013

Royal College of Surgeons Building Renewal

Redevelopment design: John McAslan + Partners


The UK’s largest and most historic collection of surgical pathology artefacts, including anatomical specimens and surgical instruments, gets a new lease of life thanks to a £2.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the UK’s oldest surgical Royal College, today announced that the proposal by John McAslan + Partners to redevelop Surgeons’ Hall Museum has been awarded an HLF grant. Designed by William Playfair (1789 – 1857) as a teaching museum for medical students, the museum has been open to the public since 1832, making it Scotland’s oldest medical museum.

Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said:

“The Lister project will take the Surgeons’ Hall Museum to a world-class level commensurate with its outstanding collections. The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be helping make that happen.”

The Lister Project – named after another notable College Fellow, Joseph Lister, who radically improved the safety of surgery by promoting the use of antiseptic techniques – will transform Surgeons’ Hall Museum into a modern, public amenity using its internationally-important collections, amassed since the 15th century, to tell the history of medicine. It will be the first time that the building has been radically altered since 1908.

The Lister Project provides enhanced intellectual and physical access for the general public, conservation of the Grade A-listed Playfair façade and improved conservation facilities in the archive store. A new glazed link block containing lift and stairs will provide improved physical access to the Surgeons’ Hall Museum, visual identity from Nicolson Street and better orientation within the museum itself.

John McAslan adds: “New galleries will double the display area, featuring innovative audiovisual and interactive elements. The enhanced Museum will feature a 17th-century dissecting theatre and a new, dedicated education suite, increasing opportunities for schools, families and special interest groups.”
Work is due to start on site early in May 2014.


John McAslan + Partners is a leading architectural and design practice based in London, with offices in Manchester, Edinburgh and Doha. Our extensive portfolio of award-winning projects in the UK and overseas includes infrastructure, commercial, residential, education, cultural, heritage, urban design, and landscape sectors.

The practice has a strong reputation for new-build architecture, as well as giving vibrant and sustainable life to historic buildings through adaptive intervention. Completed projects include the redevelopment of the historic Stanislavsky Factory in Moscow, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, the Roundhouse arts venue in Camden, London, the British Embassy in Algiers, the restoration of the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the award-winning transformation of King’s Cross Station.

Major ongoing projects include Crossrail Bond Street Station in London, residential towers in Istanbul and several projects in Doha, Qatar, including a Cultural Forum and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, as well as a number of commercial and residential schemes in Moscow, including the redevelopment of the iconic Bolshevik Gallery.

Royal College of Surgeons Building Edinburgh

The Royal College of Surgeons, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh
Date built: 1832
Design: William Henry Playfair

Royal College of Surgeons Building
Royal College Surgeons Edinburgh image © Adrian Welch

Designed by William Henry Playfair (1790-1857) the Royal College of Surgeons was opened in 1832. The college is designed in the Classical Style.

The College houses a library, the Anatomy Museum in the Playfair Hall, a Dental Museum and the Sir Jules Thorn Exhibition of the History of Surgery.

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
Royal College Surgeons Edinburgh – south facade (left) image © Adrian Welch

The Royal College of Surgeons is the oldest medical society in the English-speaking world, being founded in 1505. The Nicholson Street site was purchased because the Old Surgeon’s Hall had become insufficient to meet the needs of the College.

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
Royal College Surgeons Edinburgh – portico image © Adrian Welch

Now part of the college is an adjacent building which once housed the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory. Lister, the Father of Modern Surgery, attended the College and is remembered in the Lister Room.

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
picture © Adrian Welch, 2009

The Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons is one of three professional, training and examining bodies for surgeons in the UK.

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
Royal College Surgeons Edinburgh – entry image © Adrian Welch

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh architect – William Playfair

Quincentenary Hall
New building over three floors, adjacent to historic Surgeons Hall
due for completion Autumn 2006

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
Royal College Surgeons Edinburgh – Quincentenary Hall photo © Adrian Welch

Surgeons Hall Building – Quincentenary Hall

Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh: Extension Building
Benson + Forsyth Architects project:
Royal College of Surgeons

Nicholson St Edinburgh William Henry Playfair
building images © Benson + Forsyth

Playfair Hall, Surgeons Hall Edinburgh
Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh: image © Benson + Forsyth

RFACS – Royal College of Surgeons
June 2002 case study – Extension
‘From the street outside Surgeons’ Hall, Register House might be seen to the north. To an architectural historian, it was immediately recognisable by its proportions and detailing as having been designed by Robert Adam. Similarly, this proposal would in the future be recognised as a building by Benson and Forsyth. Central Edinburgh could accept more current examples having such character and quality’.

The Royal College of Surgeons site was originally a Riding School.

Opposite the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons is Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh

23 June 2017
Royal College of Surgeons Building Conservation Project
Design: Austin-Smith:Lord, architects
21 Hill Place, Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh
photo courtesy of architects
21 Hill Place, Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh

Edinburgh Buildings

Royal High School

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Royal Mile Edinburgh

Royal Museum of Scotland

Royal Observatory Edinburgh

Royal Scottish Academy

Comments / photos for the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh Architecture page welcome