Old Royal High School in Edinburgh: Developers plans for building have conservationists livid

Conservationists believe that plans to add two modernist-style wings while turning it into a luxury 'arts hotel' was akin to giving it 'Mickey Mouse' ears

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The Independent Culture

The building that helped to earn Edinburgh the title “the Athens of the North” because of its neo-classical architecture may soon be more fit for Disneyland, claim protesters.

Conservationists believe that plans to add two modernist-style wings to the Old Royal High School while turning it into a luxury “arts hotel” was akin to giving it “Mickey Mouse” ears.

Developers plan to open up the A-listed 1829 building, which looks out over Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle, to wealthy holidaymakers. But protesters want to protect it from a major overhaul and preserve the existing space as a gallery or museum.

A meeting set up to discuss the scheme, which included representatives of Save Britain’s Heritage and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, called for the plans, by developers Duddingston House Properties, to be reconsidered.


New images of what the building would look like with the additional wings were released in February as part of the public consultation into the project.

The crumbling building has remained empty since the boys’ school moved to Barnton in 1968. Duddingston won the mandate to turn it into a £55m hotel in 2010.

The developers said that they would save the crumbling building and boost the local economy, but they could not create a top-class venue without the wings on either side.

Architect Gareth Hoskins, who worked on the renovation of the National Museum of Scotland, said the symmetrical buildings either side drew from the neo-classical building’s “architectural language”.

Yet campaigners have responded furiously to the news. One speaker at the meeting described the design as “Mickey Mouse ears”, according to The Art Newspaper, while another called it an “international scandal”.

The campaign group the Cockburn Association said in February that it would rather see the building “mothballed” than turned into a hotel.

Marion Williams, the association’s director, told The Scotsman: “The embarrassment of turning this building into a six-star hotel would be such a body blow to any credibility that this city has of being a heritage centre.”

Historic Scotland said the school was “recognised to be of outstanding architectural, cultural, aesthetic and social significance,” adding it “makes an important contribution to the world-renowned appearance of Calton Hill and is a key building within the World Heritage Site.”

But Bruce Hare, the chief executive of Duddingston, accused heritage campaigners of being “sensational” to provoke protests and said that blocking the project would say Scotland “isn’t open for business”.