Princes Street needs a dentist

THE new head of a leading architects group today called for the removal of eyesore buildings on Princes Street.

George Ferguson visited the Capital as part of a "wonders and blunders" tour of the UK in his role as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

He claimed the "terrible disasters" of late-20th century architecture which blight the flagship shopping street should be bulldozed and replaced by modern designs.

Bristol-based Mr Ferguson said: "We have to learn from our mistakes. Some of the developments of the 1960s and 1970s are less than glamorous.

"Princes Street could be repaired by the removal of a few rotten teeth. There are good architects in Edinburgh that could contribute to that."

His comments back a 100-million masterplan for the street unveiled in March by city architect Malcolm Fraser in conjunction with heritage watchdogs

The scheme would see the demolition of 13 buildings to make way for four landmark properties, including two new department stores, luxury flats and two shopping arcades through to Rose Street.

The city council has given the concept its full support and Jon Mengham, urban design adviser for the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, also backs the "dentistry" approach.

He said: "This is what we would advocate in principle but the devil is in the detail."

Terry Levinthal, director of the Scottish Civic Trust, backed Mr Ferguson’s vision for Princes Street, but said smaller projects could go a long way to improving the situation in the short term. He said: "You could do so much by targeting redevelopment of specific buildings, but small things like trying to get owners to improve shop-fronts and be less garish could would also help."

The Edinburgh City Centre Management Company, a council-owned arm’s-length firm tasked with revitalising the area, believes the plan will transform the Capital into a premier European shopping destination.

RIBA boasts a membership of 30,000 across the UK and abroad.

The organisation’s annual Stirling Prize for the biggest contribution to British architecture is considered the Oscar of the building design world.

Although Mr Ferguson branded the St James Centre in Leith Street one of Scotland’s ugliest buildings, he claimed city leaders had for the most part preserved the Capital’s look. "Edinburgh is the highlight of any tour of Britain. Its skyline has been protected in a way no other city has. The view from the top of Calton Hill is the best urban view in Britain. Some of the views of the Castle from Princes Street’s are absolutely stupendous," he said.

He lauded the award-winning Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street and gave top marks to the Malcolm Fraser’s Dance Base in the Grassmarket and to Maggie’s Centre.

"Depressing" petrol stations and "shed" supermarkets drew Mr Ferguson’s ire during his three week journey from Bristol to Shetland.

But he was noncommittal about the controversial Holyrood project, which has been dogged by lengthy delays and a bill that will reach almost 400m.

"I’m hoping one day the tremendous cost will be seen to be irrelevant as people will regard it as an icon and important contribution from the beginning of the 21st century."

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