Edinburgh’s City Observatory awarded £300k restoration grant

The City Observatory, on Carlton Hill. Picture: Julie Bell
The City Observatory, on Carlton Hill. Picture: Julie Bell
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THE birthplace of astronomy and timekeeping in Edinburgh has been awarded a £300,000 restoration grant to transform it in to a world-class contemporary visual arts centre.

The City Observatory complex, an ensemble of astronomical buildings on Calton Hill, was designed by leading architect William Henry Playfair in 1818 as a temple to the Enlightenment, scientific innovation and discovery.

Regarded as one of Edinburgh’s most iconic locations, the building was used for scientific research and formed the basis of an accurate time service for Edinburgh and Leith.

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The complex was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but has since fallen in to a state of disrepair in recent years.

Edinburgh World Heritage, the body which protects, conserves and promotes the city’s heritage, has been awarded a significant grant to help repair and restore the buildings as a new home for the contemporary visual arts organisation Collective.

The £300,000 grant will be used to create an an extended gallery space with a target date for opening by the end of 2017.

The City Observatory buildings, which were constructed between 1818 and 1822, played an important role in the history of astronomy and timekeeping with the buildings being used to view the transit of stars and to keep the Observatory clock accurate.

Speaking on the importance of the new grant, Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “These buildings are of national and international significance, and it is especially appropriate that they will be open to the public next year, the 250th anniversary of the first New Town.

“We have invested significant funds in the conservation of other monuments on Calton Hill over the last ten years and are pleased to support these works which form the final piece of the jigsaw.”

Kate Gray, Director of Collective, said: “Our vision is for the City Observatory complex to be a world-class contemporary visual arts space that brings people together to experience new art in one of Edinburgh’s most iconic locations.

“The support of Edinburgh World Heritage is crucial to the success of this project, both in terms of financial support and conservation expertise.

“We are now in the final stages of fundraising and are still seeking donations to make our vision a reality.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, Convenor of the Edinburgh City Council Culture and Sport Committee added: “Calton Hill and the City Observatory hold a profound significance for Edinburgh and Scotland in many ways, cultural and scientific.

“We are delighted that Edinburgh World Heritage will be supporting this project and applaud Collective’s exciting vision to fully open up the site as an innovative gallery and art space.”

As part of the work on the complex, Collective is conserving and reinstating the original designs as well as creating a new-build gallery space and restaurant. The Observatory’s telescopes will be interpreted and information and activities on the heritage of the site will be available.

The restoration of the grounds and the site will see the entire complex open to the public for the first time in its history.