Edinburgh International Book Festival to relocate to historic hospital building

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is to permanently relocate to the former home of the city's royal infirmary once it is redeveloped.

The former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary building on Lauriston Place has been lined up as the new home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary building on Lauriston Place has been lined up as the new home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Leading authors will appear in venues spread across a new £120 million development being created at the A-listed landmark on Lauriston Place, which dates from 1879.

The book festival will be moving into a new Edinburgh University complex, which will become the centrepiece of the Quartermile development near the Meadows and George Square.The move will take effect from 2024 under a partnership with Edinburgh University, which is transforming the Victorian building for its “futures institute”.

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New indoor spaces being created for lectures and events will be used for the festival, which will also have a “village green” outdoor area at the rear of the main building and a main entrance via a new public plaza being created off Lauriston Place.

The former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is currently undergoing a £120 million transformation into a new university complex.

The festival will be based for the next two summers at Edinburgh College of Art, where the event relocated to last year from Charlotte Square, its home since 1983.

The move will allow the festival to expand on to a bigger footprint than it had at Charlotte Square, in spaces suitable for the live-streaming of events, in keeping with the “hybrid” model introduced at the festival last year.

The last patients were treated at the David Bryce-designed building in 2003 following the construction of a new infirmary at Little France.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute complex will bring together academics across the arts, the humanities and the sciences, and create space for start-up businesses, innovation labs, exhibitions and events.

An image of what the main entrance to the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will look like when a £120 million redevelopment is complete.

Book festival director Nick Barley said the festival’s move would help the new development live up to the building’s original ethos which is inscribed above the main entrance: “patet omnibus” – meaning open to all.

He said: “The new Edinburgh Futures Institute is under wraps behind hoardings at the moment, but it’s a massive development going on right now in the centre of the city.

“The university wants to take the original ethos of the building and make it real, so that it’s not just an academic institution with ivory towers. It will connect the university with the city and the citizens of Edinburgh.

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"In the summer, the obvious thing to do is to locate a festival there.

"It’s been a building site for so long that it’s also become a forgotten part of town, but it’s going to re-energise the whole area.

"It’s an absolutely enormous building which has lots of different indoor spaces, including a main theatre which is being built underground beneath the new plaza."The overall footprint of the site will be much bigger than we had in Charlotte Square. We also have a long-term agreement to use the building so we’ll have much more breathing space to invest and expand.

"This will be a gamechanger for us, but it’ll also mean we don’t have to build our theatres every year, which will really reduce our carbon footprint. I think there will also be space for other events to happen in the summer.”

University principal Peter Mathieson said: “We will provide world-class venues and our students and staff will be an intrinsic part of the festival’s programme, sharing and discussing ideas with audiences from Edinburgh and all over the world.”



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