Art college's new entrance opens door to arguments

AN UNDERGROUND gallery with a modern glass entrance is set to be created at Edinburgh College of Art.

Plans for the expansion, which will include a plastercast of "Winged Nike" to welcome visitors, have been lodged with the city council.

But they look sure to prove controversial, with critics saying the result would be an "incongruous add on" akin to the Usher Hall extension and planned expansion of Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

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A college spokeswoman said the extension would offer new opportunities for showcasing art and design in Edinburgh. "We are also looking to improve the streetscape on Lauriston Place," she said.

"The main college building is really set back from the street, and it can be quite daunting for new students coming here for the first time."

However, Paul Beswick, chair of Tollcross Community Council, said: "The Art College was designed with the red sandstone to fit in with the important fire station next door and this spoils the attractive look of the two buildings.

"This is the third application for an incongruous add on.

"The Usher Hall has a totally inappropriate add on to the side. The plans have been approved for another glass 'lean to' on the side of the Conference Centre, which is a truly iconic building.

"I won't be able to comment fully until I've seen all of the plans, but on first impression I would say that this type of detraction from important buildings should be resisted."

The Usher Hall glass extension – finally opened to the public in February after years of delays – attracted criticism from Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and The Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland for its "awkward" design.

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The proposed expansion of the EICC, which was expected to be given final approval today after a similarly protracted planning wrangle, has also been attacked by the Cockburn Association.

But the college spokeswoman rejected Mr Beswick's criticisms, stating that the ECA building "wasn't particularly old or historic".

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She said: "Lauriston Place already has quite a lot of modern architecture, particularly in the new Quartermile development across the road.

"The college building itself has only been around for the last 50 years or so, and there's also quite an untidy looking car park out front which doesn't particularly enhance the street or the college.

"We did an exhibition a couple of years ago where we invited the community council along, and they said they would be really interested to find out more about the college, and work with us on future projects, so we would be happy to have their input on the current plans."

A spokesman for the ECA's architects, Oliver Chapman, said the vision for the new building is to "create a real street presence for the college and encourage access by the general public".

He added: "The extensive use of glass conveys a sense of openness and offers enticing views into the gallery space below.

"The principal stair extends into the gallery proper and draws the visitor into this space.

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"The imposing plastercast of the 'Winged Nike' stands as a sentinel and draws the eye to the gallery entrance and acts as a gateway to the college campus."