Edinburgh unveils vision of new £50m 'film temple' on Lothian Road

A striking new vision of an 11-storey “21st century temple for film” at the heart of Edinburgh’s culture quarter is unveiled today.

Edinburgh's new 'temple for film' would be created between the Sheraton Grand Hotel and the Usher Hall.
Edinburgh's new 'temple for film' would be created between the Sheraton Grand Hotel and the Usher Hall.

The futuristic carbon-neutral home for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse cinema would be created on Lothian Road under a proposed deal with the city council.

Officials have agreed a long-term lease of Festival Square, a controversial public space created in the mid-1980s, for a “peppercorn rent” to allow it to become home to the £50 million eye-shaped venture.

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However the deal is subject to the 121 ft tall building being given planning permission and the funding being raised for the project, which has been designed by award-winning Edinburgh-based architect Richard Murphy.

Although three floors of the building will be created below ground, including all six cinema screens - double the existing number at the Filmhouse - it would be taller than both the five-star Sheraton Grand Hotel and the Usher Hall.

However council leaders hailed the prospect of "a new home for cinema in Edinburgh" as an exciting new chapter for the city's cultural landscape. Last year the council revealed aspirations for Lothian Road to be transformed into a new tree-lined "boulevard" under plans to hand over more space to pedestrians and cyclists.

The "film temple" vision emerged just 24 hours after it was revealed that Sir Sean Connery's filmmaker son Jason and Edinburgh-based producer had secured a deal to run a full-time film and TV studio in a former wave power plant on the city's waterfront.

Key Hay, chief executive of the Filmhouse and film festival, said he hoped fundraising would be up and running by this time next year if planning permission could be secured, with the aim of work getting underway in 2023 and the building opening in 2025.

The 121 ft tall building would create a new home for the Filmhouse cinema and Edinburgh International Film Festival.

However he admitted concerns about the impact of the new building, which will also have twice as many seats as the existing Filmhouse, had already been raised by the neighbouring five-star hotel.

Partly inspired by the Eye Film Museum, in Amsterdam, Edinburgh’s new landmark would feature offer double the cinema-going capacity of the existing Filmouse, which has been based for 41 years in a former church dating back to the 1830s, as well as larger seats and extra legroom.

Other features include a creative industries hub, a Festival Centre, a rooftop bar and event space with a retractable roof, a cafe-bar a restaurant and outdoor terrace. It could become home to other organisations involved in the screen sector and other creative industries.

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Mr Hay, who launched an official said an extensive search around the city for a new site was conducted in recent years after revamping the existing B-listed Filmhouse was ruled out.

The new home of the Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival would be located between the Usher Hall and the Sheraton Grand Hotel.

He said: “We’ve been looking for a new space that meets our own needs and those of 21st century audiences, but is also a much bigger and better facility for the wider film community and creative sectors.

“We’ve landed on Festival Square for a whole range of reasons. It’s very accessible for our audiences, but it’s also a space that everyone recognises has never worked as a public space since it was created.

"We aim to animate this space and actually create somewhere for the public to come to.

“It would be a landmark destination and a real statement of how the city and the country views the most popular artform.

A view of the new building from the roof of the Usher Hall.

“We want it to be a home for film and screen - for watching, but also for learning, making and understanding.

"Through doubling the number of screens and seats for regular cinema-goers, creating dedicated education and learning spaces, and developing an iconic festival centre, all within a fully accessible and carbon neutral building, this really is a 21st century temple for film."

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The square was previously earmarked for a new-look Filmhouse and festival HQ in 2004, but the plan failed to win the backing of the then council, Sir Sean Connery agreeing to put his name to the project, which was also designed by Mr Murphy, whose other cultural projects, include the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh and the Dundee Contemporary Arts complex.

However Mr Hay insisted that this time round there had been extensive talks with the city council, heritage bodies and the site's near neighbours, including the Sheraton Grand Hotel, and other organisations in the cultural quarter, including the Usher Hall, and Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres.

He said: "The council has agreed to give us access to the site on a long-term lease on a peppercorn rent, subject to planning permission and raising the funding.

"We’ll focus on fundraising if we get planning permission. There’s no point trying to raise £50m without it. We’re looking at potentially starting to fundraise at this time next year if we have planning permission.

An image of the view from the building's restaurant, looking towards the Usher Hall and Edinburgh Castle.

"We’ve put a cost of approximately £50 million on the project, which is based on the current designs. We are doing a lot of work now so that we’re relatively confident that the final figure will be within a relatively small variation of that.

“While we have got what look like quite detailed plans on the face of it, we are embarking on a genuine consultation process to ensure that by the time we submit a formal planning application we’ve taken the views of everyone on board.

“This process has been ongoing over the last 18 months. We’ve spoken to the owners of the hotel and clearly they have some concerns in terms about having a building rising in front of them."

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City council leader Adam McVey said: "The Filmhouse and film festival bring art to our city that you can’t get anywhere else in Edinburgh.

"This week we’ve already had the announcement of a new film/TV studio in Leith and this new hub further builds on our credentials as a beacon for film."

Amy McNeese-Mechan, vice-convener of culture on the city council, said: "This is a bold new vision which would allow the Filmhouse to modernise its facilities and accessibility while securing its place at the heart of a thriving cultural quarter close to the Usher Hall, Lyceum and Traverse Theatres.

"Along with the welcome news about the new film studio, which will provide a huge boost to training and employment in the city’s creative industries, the prospect of a new home for cinema in Edinburgh is an exciting new chapter in our cultural landscape."

Isabel Davis, executive director of the Scottish Government's film agency Screen Scotland, said: “We recognise the Filmhouse’s ambition to support the cultural cinema offer for all audiences and look forward to seeing how these plans develop.”

Tristan Nesbitt, general manager at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, said: “We have been made aware of the Filmhouse’s interesting plans and are currently reviewing them.”

All six cinemas in the proposed development would be built under ground.

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