Gothic landmark built for 18th century astronomers in Edinburgh to become artists' retreat on Calton Hill

A gothic-style landmark built overlooking Edinburgh for 18th century astronomers is to be converted into an exclusive new artistic retreat.

The Old Observatory House on Edinburgh's Calton Hill dates back to 1776.
The Old Observatory House on Edinburgh's Calton Hill dates back to 1776.

The Collective Gallery, which took over the historic observatory complex on Calton Hill two years ago, has revealed plans to restore the A-listed Old Observatory House and give it a new lease of life.

Designed by James Craig, the architect behind the original vision for Edinburgh’s New Town, it dates back to 1776, but has lain empty for years and has previously had “building at risk” status.

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Now it is set to become a base for international artists to stay in when they are visiting the city to work with the gallery.

International artists working with the Collective Gallery are expected to stay at the new 'retreat' on Calton Hill.

Under a planned £400,000 makeover of Old Observatory House, artists and craft-makers will be commissioned to create new works for the building, which will be divided into two separate apartments.

A neglected courtyard will be turned into an outdoor seating area under designs for the arts organisation by Glasgow-based Collective Architecture.

Plans lodged with the city council state: “The level of significance for this building is multi-layered; a combination of fine architectural detailing, an architect of great significance to Edinburgh, strong scientific links to the development of astronomy and timekeeping in the city, forming part of a group of the nation’s most significant buildings.”

As well as accommodating visiting artists, the two apartments will also be able for hire for corporate events and as holiday homes.

New kitchens will be installed to allow “fine dining experiences” to be created by the neighbouring restaurant The Lookout.

Collective director Kate Gray said: “Observatory House is a gem of a building in an incredible location. Though this is a challenging time as we emerge from an extended closure and are struggling with the loss of expected income, it is even more important that we move forward to complete the full integration of our historic site.

“As a charity, we are dependent on fundraising and income generation to deliver our mission to bring people together around contemporary art.

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"Giving the house a new lease of life as a lettable space will allow us to generate income that will help keep Collective freely accessible to all.”

Emma Fairhust, lead architect on the project, said: “Old Observatory House is a beautiful building, full of character and interest.

“We plan to keep the rooms simple and calm and to retain the feeling of the house as a retreat, overlooking the busy city below.

"When complete, the restored house will offer a fusion of gothic architecture, modern interiors, contemporary art, and exquisite local cuisine.”

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