Architecture experts want to block the first new concert hall to be built in Edinburgh for more than a century, claiming it will ruin views of an 18th-century bank building because it is “too large and too tall”.
Councillors have been warned the proposed £45 million venue will “tower above” the Royal Bank of Scotland’s head office in the city’s New Town. The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS) has described Dundas House, which still operates as an RBS branch, as arguably “the most important town house in all of Scotland”.
The charity, which is already battling plans to turn the Royal High School on Calton Hill into a luxury hotel, has now lodged a formal objection over the proposed concert hall’s “excessive scale and massing”.
Designed by award-winning architect Sir David Chipperfield, the 1,000-capacity venue is earmarked for a site hidden behind Dundas House, which was built on St Andrew Square in 1774 and is one of the earliest buildings in the New Town.
However, the AHSS claims the venue will “detract from the historic building’s character, greatly diminishing its special interest and status as the focal point of the east end of Edinburgh’s New Town plan”.
The venue, which is proposed to have a rooftop dome, a glass-covered walkway and outdoor terraces, is being led by Impact Scotland – a charity set up to pursue a purpose-built venue for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Predicted to attract more than 250,000 visitors a year, the venue is being designed to make it suitable for pop, rock, jazz, electronica and folk gigs.
The AHSS submission states: “As the most important town house in Edinburgh and arguably in all of Scotland, it is imperative that any development is carried out with extreme sensitivity in order to protect the character and special interest of this outstanding listed building.
“While we welcome the proposal to build a new concert venue, we have concerns regarding the excessive scale and massing of the proposed extension, which, far from being subordinate to the listed building, will tower above it. This will detract from its character, greatly diminishing its special interest and status as the focal point of the east end of Edinburgh’s New Town.
“The proposal is too large and too tall for such a restricted plot, surrounded as it is by listed buildings, and as such represents an overdevelopment of the site. We’re also concerned about the way the proposed concert hall butts up against Dundas House.”
The project has won the backing of another leading heritage body, the Cockburn Association. Its submission states: “We welcome the considerable effort the developers have undertaken to positively consult with a wide variety of stakeholders throughout the development of the final design for this project.
“We acknowledge and welcome changes made throughout the design process because of the meaningful consultation and engagement exercises. Within the constraints of the available site, the proposed concert hall is an effective and positive use of space.” Impact Scotland chair Ewan Brown said: “The overwhelming support we have received from the public, local businesses, community and heritage bodies throughout the process so far has been very encouraging.
“This is a much-needed venue in an ideal central location, which will bring a welcome cultural and community focused addition to the surrounding retail and hotel developments.”