Hoskins Architects, the Scottish-based architect behind the design proposals for the new Rosewood Hotel, explains the inspiration and rationale that drives the scheme.
“The Old Royal High School building is an architectural masterpiece. The main building, designed by Thomas Hamilton and opened in 1829, is one of the most important buildings in Edinburgh – yet has been without a viable, permanent use for the last 50 years. The building must be conserved and the purpose of the hotel proposal is to provide a sustainable and financially viable solution that respects the history of the site whilst demonstrating a conservation-led approach to development.
“Hamilton’s design is one of the best built examples of Greek Revival architecture, a style that took its inspiration from the temples and monuments of ancient Greece. In successfully reinterpreting temple architecture, the building necessarily has a virtually window-less south-facing facade. This feature plays a large part in defining the building’s significance and should be protected. It is also one of the unique features of the building that has presented significant challenges to its reuse over the last half century.
“In order to preserve the character and, more importantly, the fabric of the building our hotel proposals make no alterations to the front of the historic building. Instead it is proposed that the new bedroom accommodation will sit either side of the former school building requiring only modest links into the east and west ends of the Hamilton building. All existing ancillary buildings, currently cluttering the site in an unplanned and detrimental way, are proposed to be demolished and replaced with well-considered, carefully designed new wings that complement and celebrate the heritage of the site.
“The design of these new wings deliberately does not seek to mimic the architecture of the former school building. Instead they are a bold, contemporary design that contrasts with the historic architecture in a manner that allows the Hamilton building to remain the focus of the whole composition. This approach, to contrast new with old, is one which, in our first hotel proposal, found support with Historic Environment Scotland as well as the City of Edinburgh Council, Architecture and Design Scotland and others.
“The architectural language adopted for the new wings has been developed specifically for this important site on Calton Hill. The forms, material, colours and texture of the new wings are inspired by the topography and landscape of the surrounding area. By allowing the natural forms of Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags to inform the design the new architecture can contrast with the classically composed Royal High School and be subservient to it. This contrast in form, height, elevational design and materials between the new wings and the Hamilton building is result of a deliberate, carefully considered design process undertaken to achieve proposed design in both schemes of the highest quality.
“The proposals were developed and assessed from many viewpoints around the city and while they clearly represent change they do not dominate or reduce the prominence of the historic Royal High School building on the hill. The wings are thoughtfully designed to leave views to and from the historic building unimpeded. They sit well on the hillside providing a recessive backdrop to the central Hamilton building.
“When approached from the west the two application schemes offer a differing experience. The 2015 scheme seeks to address the huge scale of the adjacent St Andrew’s House government building in a positive way providing an exciting new focus for visitors to the Calton Hill area of the city. The 2017 revise scheme seeks to reduce the height proposed at the west end of the site, stepping away from the street and allowing the retention of the original boundary railings and gateposts.
“Both schemes are appropriate, sophisticated design responses to the challenge of finding a long-term sustainable new life for this historically important site. Both schemes are examples of new architectural design of the highest quality with the key objective of restoring the primacy of Thomas Hamilton masterpiece whilst achieving a sustainable economic future for the building enabling easy public access to it for the first time in more than 50 years.