Fuelling dreams of the future

IT is a landmark that serves as a reminder of Edinburgh's industrial past.

• the Granton gas holder, which councillors last week saved from demolition

Standing 150ft high on the Granton landscape, the neighbourhood's iconic gas holder is the last relic of an era in which the port boasted the biggest gas works in the country.

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Last week, city councillors fought successfully to save the 19th century structure from demolition, arguing that plans to bulldoze it to make room for the development of the neighbouring Forth Quarter would "tear out the heart" of Granton.

But what will happen to the gasometer now?

Could developers be persuaded to follow steps made by their European counterparts who have transformed disused gas holders into attractive and innovative buildings? Could Granton's gas holder become a must-visit tourist attraction, serving as a museum or cultural space?

Perhaps it could be radically transformed into housing or a shopping centre?

Looking at these examples, with the right money, the options are almost endless.

1. Vienna Gas holders

Perhaps one of the most stunning examples of any modern architectural redevelopment, the 19th century Vienna gasometers, now an eye-catching "urban complex" with shops, a cinema and living space, have a fascinating history.

It was on October 31, 1899 that the four giant structures first made their mark on the city's skyline, the result of an international design competition launched seven years earlier.

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They were quickly crowned the largest of their kind in Europe and by 1981 were listed by heritage ministers as outstanding examples of industrial architecture, protecting them from demolition.

However, their future had become uncertain some years earlier when Vienna converted its gas supply to natural gas in the 1970s.

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The gasometers gradually became obsolete, resulting in the dismantling of the technical equipment that served them and then their eventual closure in 1986.

It was not until 1995 that a decision was made by the authorities to utilise the redundant structures, with the majority of officials agreeing they should serve a residential purpose.

The chosen designs by leading architects Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Manfred Wehdorn, and Wilhelm Holzbauer - who each tackled one gasometer - were completed between 1999 and 2001 to form a spectacular urban complex.

Each converted gasometer is divided into three zones, with apartments at the top for living accommodation (615 in total), offices on the middle floors and entertainment areas on the lower levels, including shopping malls and a concert hall suitable for up to 3500 people.

The redevelopment is also home to a cinema, student accommodation, a municipal archive, kindergarten, schools and medical facilities.

2. Dublin Gas holder

More than 200 apartments, as well as three-bed homes, now fill the space that was once Dublin Gasworks.

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Built in 1885 on Barrow Street, in the Ringsend area of the city, the 60-metre-wide gasometer was converted in 2007 to form an impressive residential space within the original frame of the now glass-clad gas holder.

The 7.8-acre site was bought in 1996 by developer the Danninger Group for a then record 8 million. The group ensured each apartment had two-sided views, with living areas on the outer perimeter to allow for spectacular sights over the city - but only at a price.

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Popular with young professionals who now dominate the former industrial neighbourhood, a three-bed apartment is likely to set them back around 1800 per month.

3. Oberhausen Gas holder, Germany

Constructed between 1927 and 1929, the Oberhausen Gasometer - the largest disc-type holder in Europe - was decommissioned in the late 1980s.

Built at a cost of 1.74m Reichmarks, the structure played a crucial role in the industrial growth of the Ruhr valley, but was closed when its gas was gradually replaced by natural gas, supplied via pipelines.

Long discussions took place over the future of the prominent structure, before Oberhausen officials decided it should be preserved and revamped through a 16 million Deutsche Mark conversion into an exhibition space, allowing it to remain a landmark in the city.

Now serving as a key venue in the European Route of Industrial Heritage scheme, the structure was completed in 1994, creating a 300-square-metre visitor space.

4. Athens Gas holder

The Athens Gazi Industrial Archaeological Park, an industrial museum, opened in 1999 and is home to a series of former gas holders which have now been transformed into a multi-purpose cultural space.

The area was home to Athens' gas works from 1857 to 1983.

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Among the transformed former industrial structures is the Yiannis Ritsos Hall, a 250-seat ampitheatre which is home to Athina Municipal Radio and also a key space for drama productions, concerts, lectures and seminars.

Within the structure there is the Museum of Broadcasting, boasting rare exhibits detailing the history of radio.

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In honour of Greek poetry, eight of the developed structures bear the name of great Greek poets, including Andreas Embirikos, Angelos Sikelianos, and Yiannis Ritsos.

5. The future for Granton's gas holder?

If developers at National Grid Properties could have their way there would be no dramatic, innovative redevelopment of the Granton gasholder, rather an entirely new construction on the site.

Image number five, above, is what developers propose - an eye-catching mixed-use building, possibly to house a five-star hotel, as well as an art gallery, heritage museum or concert hall.

The firm insists it has been unable to find any viable use for the current gasometer, and owing to its poor condition, it would cost 5.2m just to repair it.