A proposed new home for the Filmhouse cinema and the Edinburgh International Film Festival has been reduced in height by two storeys to bring it into line with a neighbouring office block as part of a bid to secure planning permission for the project, which will have less office space than previously planned and a scaled-back space for events and conferences.
However key elements of the building, which is still envisaged to be taller than the neighbouring Sheraton Grand Hotel and the Usher Hall, are being retained under plans lodged with the city council today.
And a previous timetable which envisaged work getting underway in 2023 and being completed in 2025 is being kept in place, despite the impact of the coronvirus pandemic on the Scottish cultural sector and the increased price tag for the nine-storey complex.
The new Filmhouse, six storeys of which will be above ground, is expected to transform Festival Square, off Lothian Road, is described as “a genuine once in a generation opportunity to create an inspirational and accessible temple for film culture in the heart of Edinburgh for the people of Edinburgh.”
A fundraising drive is expected to be triggered next summer if planning permission is secured by then for the £60 million project, which is said to have risen in cost as detailed designs have been drawn this year.
The Centre for the Moving Image, which is behind the project, proposes redesigning and taking over the management of the little-used square, in partnership with local businesses and other cultural organisations.
The facilities at the “New Filmhouse” include a cafe-bar which will spill out onto Festival Square, a glass-fronted restaurant boasting views of Edinburgh Castle, and a roof terrace which will host regular open-air film sceenings and be open to the public year-round.
Predicted to attract 800,000 visitors a year, more than double the Filmhouse’s usual numbers, the building will feature five underground cinema screens, a studio theatre which can also be used to show films, stage exhibitions and live performances, and a 180-capacity event and conference space.
The five main screens will boast a total capacity of 828, compared to 455 in its existing home, a former church on Lothian Road, development of which has been ruled out.
Project architect Richard Murphy, who is also working on plans to convert the former Royal High School into a new home for a music school, said: "I don’t have any apology to make for the height of this building.
"Height tends to be a dirty word in Edinburgh, but this is a public building, not a block of flats or offices. I personally think that public buildings tend to be more prominent than everyday buildings for housing and offices.
"This isn’t just a building for the citizens of Edinburgh or for Scotland. It’s about making a cinema building which is known around the world. Can you think of another contemporary cinema building as prominent and distinctive as this one?
“The ambition is to absolutely put Edinburgh on the international map. This isn’t about an upmarket multiplex, it’s about doing something quite extraordinary which will become a must-see for people visiting the city as well as the citizens of Edinburgh themselves. Imagine watching a film on a summer’s evening among the rooftops of Edinburgh – people will be queuing up to do that.
"Edinburgh is well for provided in institutions like the Scottish National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Modern Art Gallery, the National Museum and the Usher Hall. But the one art form, which is arguably the most important contemporary art form of the 20th century, is film and it’s stuck in an old church.
“This a massive leap of ambition to put film on the same plinth, on the same level of importance, as all the arts. We’re right across the road from the Usher Hall. We see ourselves architecturally as being an equal partner with music. That’s the scale of ambition. My belief has always been that if you have a scale of ambition the money will follow.
"I was involved with the Dundee Contemporary Arts building 25 years ago. The council was on its knees financially, but had an extraordinary scale of ambition to create a very substantial arts building. Most people thought they were mad, but they found the money, made it work and it’s still one of the most successful arts buildings in the country. We’re going to repeat the trick here.”
Ken Hay, chief executive of the Centre for the Moving Image, said: “We have tried to ensure that the new building is as accessible as it can be, both physically and emotionally. A lot of the work has been done to ensure it is as transparent as possible and will be filled with natural daylight.
"Cinema buildings are normally designed to keep every last bit of light out. We’re trying to ensure people can see all the life inside the building. That life, energy and passion for filming is one of the key things driving the project. In some ways, we are trying to turn the essence of going to the cinema inside out.
"It’s very important that we’re not just plonking a big cinema building into a public space. We recognise we have a responsibility to make that space work for everybody, regardless of whether they’re coming into our building or not. We’ll be taking responsibility for curating activity in the square, but we will be ensuring the square is a nice to hang out in future.
"There’s a real cluster of other cultural institutions and buildings in this area, but there’s not really a glue that binds it all together. That’s what we see ourselves being in future.”