Ancient and Modern

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It isn’t possible to avoid older buildings when working as an Architect in Edinburgh.

I love contemporary Architecture and I relish the chance to design minimal, well proportioned buildings but I practice in Edinburgh, with over 4,500 listed buildings. This might not seem ideal ground for modernism but those buildings are old and they often need work done and that creates opportunities.

In 2015 I was approached by a young couple who had recently purchased a large flat on the corner of Nelson Street and Northumberland Street, right in heart of Edinburgh New Town. The property is A listed, in a conservation area and UESCO World Heritage Site. Making changes to properties like this is not to be taken lightly but it is something I am asked to do regularly. The client found my details online after I altered a two storey flat directly across the street.

It might seem contradictory for a modernist to work on historic buildings but it all depends on the type of building. Edinburgh New Town is Georgian and they valued order, symmetry and natural light, which is great. On the downside, they believed in strict hierarchy and planned their livings arrangements accordingly, with the kitchen near the bottom of the heap. 160701 1

I have written before about the complexity of modern domestic life and how open plan living is the only real answer to the challenge. The client for this property wanted to fully renovate the flat, it didn’t even have central heating and had been the subject of several amateur alteration projects in the past. The main move was to combine two unequal size room overlooking the street to create a living / dining space.

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We then formed a large opening between the new space and the refurbished kitchen. This allows the rooms to be separate when necessary but also adheres to my rule that an open-plan space should never be square or rectangular.

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The flat was thoroughly modernised from front door to back bedroom, creating new bathrooms, ensuites and utility space along the way. I was responsible for preparing the design, seeing it through a listed building application and the building warrant process. The client worked directly with the builder, Go Construct Ltd, during construction.


The end product is a very nice place to live. A family apartment in the centre of Edinburgh, filled with natural light, as the Georgians intended, but also fit for the 21st century.

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