New era dawns for Calton Hill as gallery and restaurant revealed

Collective, Edinburgh's new centre for contemporary art opens it's doors to the media on 21 November. Neil Hanna Photography'www.neilhannapho
Collective, Edinburgh's new centre for contemporary art opens it's doors to the media on 21 November. Neil Hanna Photography'www.neilhannapho
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A multi-million pound transformation of one of Edinburgh’s most prominent landmarks was unveiled yesterday, 200 years after it was originally opened.

Architect William Henry Playfair’s City Observatory complex on Calton Hill has been converted into a new arts centre and restaurant boasting views across the city.

The £4.5 million project, which will see the entire complex fully opened to the public for the first time in its history on Saturday, has created a new home for the Collective Gallery, which dates back to 1984.

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It relocated from its previous home on Cockburn Street five years ago to pursue the project, which has been nearly a decade in the planning.

Its backers include the city council, Creative Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Edinburgh World Heritage.

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The restoration and expansion of the complex has been unveiled more than a year later than originally envisaged, while its costs have risen by more than £1m from early estimates.

However, the city council has described the restoration of the City Observatory as “one of the most significant conservation projects to take place in Edinburgh in recent times”.

The restaurant, created on a purpose-built site, will be run by the team behind The Gardener’s Cottage, which has operated in nearby Royal Terrace Gardens since 2012.

Collective Gallery director Kate Gray said: “The development really goes back to 2010 when we did a site-specific project in the observatory building with two artists Jenny Hogarth and Kim Coleman.

“By that point the astronomers had been out of the building for a few years and it was on the official buildings at risk register. It was actually the council that first suggested the site needed something really forward looking.

“I think they realised a different model was needed to maintain and redevelop the site.

“Back in 2010 I thought it would take three years to finish the project, but it took a long time to raise the funding and carry out all the work.

“The observatory had really fallen into disrepair. There was a lot of wet and dry rot when we took it on.”

Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “Gazing over the city from the top of Calton Hill, the City Observatory has played an important role in Edinburgh life for hundreds of years. Now it’s set to become one of the most unique ‘must visit’ destinations in the city.

“The building is a historically significant symbol of the Edinburgh Enlightenment as well as a major contributor to the history of stargazing.

“It’s a brilliant example of Scottish architecture – an original Playfair design – and boasts a prominent position on the Edinburgh skyline, with panoramic views of the Firth of Forth, Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle. When it reopens, it is also going to be a space for people to enjoy the arts and for the public to visit freely. It’s surely one of the most significant conservation projects in Edinburgh in recent times.”