Heritage threat architect likened to ‘Godzilla’

ONE of Scotland’s leading architects has been compared to Japanese movie monster Godzilla in a damning dossier to global watchdogs Unesco about Edinburgh’s world heritage site.

'Scottish acropolis', the Old Royal High School on Calton Hill, will be 'wrecked', Unesco was told. Picture: Contributed

Gareth Hoskins has won the unlikely comparison months after revealing plans to transform a neglected landmark into a luxury hotel.

Unesco officials being urged to strip Edinburgh of its world heritage status have been told his blueprint would lead to the “desecration” of the old Royal High School on Calton Hill.

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A 36-page dossier lodged with Unesco by leading heritage campaigner and conservationist David Black demands an urgent intervention over what he describes as “a deep-seated crisis at the historic heart of Edinburgh”.

Two developers are facing huge opposition to the proposed hotel over plans to create two huge extensions on either side of the A-listed building, widely revered as one of the highlights of Edinburgh’s “Athens of the North” skyline.

The Glasgow-based architect was selected five years ago to lead plans to bring the 1829 building back into use for the first time since 1968. Developers Duddingston House and the Urbanist Group agreed a 125-year lease with Edinburgh City Council for a £55 million scheme they say will create 640 jobs and generate £27m for the economy.

But the heritage body has been warned the city is “about to wreck” a building of world-importance, which is hailed by Mr Black as “a carefully-devised Scottish acropolis”. The Black dossier also condemns a number of other schemes Mr Hoskins has worked on in the city, including the overhaul of the Royal Museum building, a modern retail development which has seen the loss of several historic blocks on St Andrew Square, and a scheme for a nearby site which will see the demolition of one Victorian building and the removal of all but the façade of another.

Mr Hoskins is accused of trying to “reinvent” the old Royal High School building by Mr Black, who added: “It is as a Godzilla of the urban realm that Mr Hoskins seems to be making his mark in Edinburgh. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to think of a more unfortunate mismatch between an architect and a restoration project.”

Mr Black claims that rather than offer protection, world heritage status has instead “turned out to be the corporate developers’ Trojan Horse,” with the people of Edinburgh having only recently “woken up” to the threats posed by new developments.

He states: “It seems at times as though the favoured position in dealing with the city’s built heritage is to destroy its historic character.

“One expects corporate capitalism to be red in tooth and claw. One even expects greed and vanity-driven modernist ­architects to exploit every opportunity to flex their godzilla muscles and foist their crazed visions upon the rest of us. What we tend not to expect is complicity and collaboration from authoritities and ‘guardians’ charged with protecting the urban environment.”

A spokesman for the two hotel developers said: “Mr Black is entitled to his colourful opinion. We remain entirely focused on saving the building and creating a world-class attraction.”