A quick review of the plans for the Old Royal High School building

Your correspondent spent a useful hour reading through the planning application for the Old Royal High School building recently published on the City of Edinburgh Council’s web site (Opens in a new tab). For an overview I opened the Design Access Statement (Part 1 of 2) which contains some very clear drawings and some great photographs.

Only Thomas Hamilton’s 1827 neo-classical buildings are left standing on the Old Royal High School site and the later ancillary school buildings have all been reduced to rubble. Work to convert the remaining buildings into Scotland’s National Centre for Music will not begin until the City of Edinburgh Council has agreed to the proposed plans.

Some of the key points that I picked up from the planning application are as follows:

– The original proposal to house St Mary’s Music School on the site has been abandoned for cost reasons and the only proposed occupant of the site will be the National Centre for Music.

– No significant new buildings will be constructed on the site and only Thomas Hamilton’s original buildings will remain.  Much of the space to the East and West of the main buildings will be given over to new gardens.

– The internal structure of the Thomas Hamilton buildings will be significantly altered to serve the purposes of the National Centre for Music and the underground areas known to generations of Royal High School pupils as ‘the dungeons’ will be greatly expanded to improve the flow of people around the site.  The planning application includes some good illustrations of these proposals.

– Several parts of the building will be used for musical performances, principally the Main Hall. Former pupils of the Royal High School will remember public performances by the school’s choir in the Main Hall which always had excellent acoustics.  We also remember Bill Bowie’s rousing renditions of Widor’s Toccata on the organ sending us on our way to classes after morning assembly.

– Demolition work on the site has revealed a Belvedere in the farthest east corner of the site.   Hidden for many years behind the school’s gymnasium block the Belvedere originally housed the school bell.  Belvedere in Italian means ‘beautiful view’ and indeed it commands a wonderful view looking south over Edinburgh.  Hopefully the Belvedere will be fully restored during the building works.

In summary the architects have come up with some fantastic proposals for the regeneration and revitalisation of the Old Royal High School buildings as the National Centre for Music. No doubt the City of Edinburgh Council will do their due diligence on these proposals to ensure that the buildings promote the musical life of Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond for many years to come.

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