Architecture (101)Community (44)Conservation (37)Heritage (32)Landscape (32)Social (28)design (27)Teaching (26)Historic (25)regeneration (22)
University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square

University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square

Key Facts


The University of Edinburgh


50 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JU




January 2014

Re-imagining of Edinburgh modernism’s take on the repair of the Georgian legacy for the University of Edinburgh.

Project Info

50 George Square forms part of a Category A listed grouping, which also includes the Adam Ferguson Building and David Hume Tower. These were designed to house the Arts Faculty, and this grouping is one of the key examples of Scottish Modernism. Through careful conservation works, maintaining the formal organisational system of the buildings as originally intended and by careful and sensitive intervention we aspired to maintain the original spirit of the buildings yet adapt their programmes for the 21st century.

City & Land


As part of a separate commission Page\Park undertook a Central Area Study for Edinburgh University in 2010. The study was seen as informing aspects of the updated University Estates Strategy 2010 – 2020 with particular consideration of the implications of relocation of the School of Languages Literature’s and Culture (LLLC) on spaces formerly used by them and their neighbours.

Edinburgh University has been investing hugely in its post war legacy buildings. Although their construction was not without controversy at the time, they have now become listed and much venerated contributions to campus life. The Library by Basil Spence was the first significant refurbishment leading to other buildings that edge the garden square. Our involvement revolves around a grouping of buildings by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners including the Category A listed David Hume Tower and its basement connection to the four storey Category B listed William Robertson perimeter block completed in 1970. This block has become the new home of the school of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

Round Room
Round Room
Cross Section
Cross Section
Heritage & Conservation

Heritage & Conservation approach

This grouping of buildings is one of the key examples of Scottish Modernism. 50 George Square, is the sister building to the Adam Ferguson Building in its form and construction, being a reinforced concrete frame with block infill. It is clad in York stone and has horizontal bands of timber-framed windows.

The principal entrance elevation of 50 George Square continues and defines the building line of the east side of George Square itself. The building’s relationship to the adjacent Georgian terrace is significant in view of the history surrounding the design and construction of the David Hume Tower grouping of buildings as extensively documented and was a controversial ‘cause celebre’ in terms of city planning, conservation and modern architectural history.

The original arrangement of the courtyard opening to the DHT basement was L shaped however the space within the courtyard was underused for two reasons: Firstly the Scottish climate exacerbated by the wind patterns of the DHT itself made the courtyard space particularly windy and secondly, the relationship of the internal spaces within the basement to the courtyard cut the space off from the users. The spaces between the buildings are an important element in the design of 50 George Square and the David Hume Tower buildings and provide context for the 50 George Square re-entrant elevations facing south and east with the main lecture theatre being a significant element in the composition. Therefore, through discussions with Historic Environment Scotland, to maintain the important element of the podium composition, the opening was reduced within the upper deck and the internal spaces of the basement opened up to the courtyard. In addition, a new Project Space was inserted into the complex onto the roof of the main lecture theatre. This was required for operational requirements but it was felt that this reinforced and articulated the original re-entrant element of the lecture theatre itself.

At 50 George Square and within the DHT Basement, interventions were undertaken through engaging with the existing architecture, the history of the building and site became a source of ideas and inspiration for variations of its formal themes: Connecting the past with the future and helping to manage its evolution. This was particularly important on these highly serviced buildings where the integration of the architecture and services was key.

Briefing & Interiors

Briefing Process

The brief for the new school evolved in three ways, in discussion with staff, secondly applying University norms and thirdly in relationship to activity needs. Regular design team meetings were attended by executive members of the school, each of the departments were visited in their school environments and workshops were held with key staff in each of the departments within the school.

These meetings involved:

  • Understanding and assisting in the development of a societal framework for the new school.
  • How the school would be used and understood in this respect by staff, students and visitors.
  • Considering how the school will work as an academic centre of excellence.
  • How the spatial distribution of activities and uses might result in enriching the opportunities for cross field research.
  • How the school would be used and understood by staff, students and visitors.
  • Developing the detailed space requirements for the school.

As a parallel study, analysis of areas were explored as follows:

  • The gross area of the existing building.
  • The potential gross area of an extended building if we were to consider extensions to the roofs at low level and top floor.
  • Opportunities for adaptation of the existing building and resultant volumes.
  • Constraints of the existing structure.
  • Taken together this allowed the design team with the LLC school to match vision and ambition with the framework of the existing building in the form of an organogram of the new structure of LLC. This mental map defined the following:
  • That a ground floor reception should lead distinctively to a) the centrally bookable lecture spaces, and b) introduce the way up to a school ‘welcome’ hall.
  • This ‘welcome’ hall should lead in turn to the help admin desk, learning resources room, project reception room and post graduate taught spaces.
  • That from the ‘welcome’ hall stairs and lift would lead on up through the ‘office’ and teaching floors with social learning opportunity circulation spine and support spaces.
  • With, on the roof, the postgraduate research student space, more offices and staff and hospitality space

Interior Design

Not withstanding the historical importance of 50 George Square in the overall DHT setting, the same could not be said of its interior environment, particularly its internal circulation system. Crucial to the new interior works was that they addressed the issues that had reduced the quality of the interior circulation system and at the same time exploited the aspect of the rooms around the edge, which remain the buildings best aspect. The interior insertions can be summarised as follows:

  • A new main stair and atrium space with rooflights over opening up and naturally lighting the heart of the building plan.
  • A clear circulation and central spine philosophy again to bring light into the centre of the building allowing user orientation.
  • Good offices and functioning rooms around the edge maintaining the original design philosophy.
  • New finishes, services and furniture throughout.
  • External adaptations of a new fourth floor and multi-purpose project space to maximise the buildings potential.

The ground floor is clearly delineated as a centrally bookable teaching space working with the lower ground level of the DHT linking basement. The upper levels belong to the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures with a new reception at first floor.

The works within the linking basement area have:

  • Provided innovative and forward-looking teaching accommodation to facilitate 21st century pedagogy.
  • Provided flexible accommodation with the capability to generate income through alternative uses out with the core-teaching timetable.
  • Provided catered study facilities to support teaching accommodation.
  • Re-invigorated a core within the central teaching area that had become substantially vacant.
  • Improved linkages from surrounding buildings and George Square to enhance and link breakout potential from adjacent lecture theatres, 50 George Square and the DHT.

Its original, unusual internal spatial strategy has been modified in the transformation. Originally the ‘L’ shaped plan was organised in a tramline, twin corridor layout with cellular rooms exploiting the aspect around the edge and between these tramline corridors, service and support spaces. It is that support space which has been hollowed out to create a top-lit internal promenade stair. The new stair links all levels from the ground floor of mainly teaching spaces, breakout space clusters to support more immediate teaching and learning opportunities, and a more open sense of orientation for building users.

The first floor forms an organisational piano-nobile for the school with a concentration of support services and the introduction of a new circular meeting room in the elbow of the plan,as well as a learning resources setting and bespoke post graduate research space. From this elevated platform the open stair introduces the idea of timber linings which carry on up the building to a new roof level of accommodation, providing a tactile and warm unifying veneer to the academic activities within.

Social Space
Social Space
Creative Workspace

Internally 50GS and the DHT Basement were stripped back to their concrete frames and screeded floors which gave us the opportunity to carefully insert a new interior with roof extensions at two levels: At first floor level a new Project Room was inserted into the complex onto the roof of the main lecture theatre. The second extension is a completely new steel frame floor level to provide completely new space.

Within the lower ground floor the courtyard space has been partially in filled, additional linking elements inserted from podium to the lower ground floor level and the internal spaces of the basement opened up to the courtyard.

One of the major challenges of the project was the integration of 21st Century services into a 20th Century building. Floor to ceiling heights were limited and thorough coordination of architectural, services and structural designs was required on an ongoing basis throughout the project. Access for maintenance was key for the University and this was required to all service routes. Timber and metal access panels were integrated within the design.

The School of Languages Literatures and Cultures, (LLC) now occupy the three upper floors of 50GS and the rooftop extension. The ground floor of 50GS comprises centrally bookable rooms. The lower podium level provides additional teaching spaces for wider university use.

The north – west corner to George Square has become the main ‘cultural’ entrance to the new school. A new main staircase rises up adjacent to the entrance and is the means my which the LLC school ‘welcome’ is introduced on the first floor. The new Project Room roof top extension is the central point of contact between the School and the wider community. Timber wall and ceiling linings lead you through the circulation routes of the building giving a warmth to the interiors.

The 50GS development buildings have a BREEAM target rating of “Excellent”. The proposals have maximised the passive features of the existing buildings, including the spacious interior volumes, the existing heavyweight thermal mass of the structure and utilisation of the building form to permit natural ventilation to many of the building areas. Carbon emission savings of approximately 60%, energy savings of approximately 25% and running cost savings of approximately 55% have been achieved.



“It's more than we could have hoped for in terms of appearance, design, use of space and flow, and there's a real and widespread sense of excitement across the School both about the building per se, and about the opportunities it will give us.”

Jeremy Robbins Head of School, Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Selected Awards

RICS Awards 2015 – Conservation Award

Scottish Design Awards 2015 – Commendation in Listed Building Category

GIA Awards 2015 – Commendation in Education Category


Structural Engineer: Harley Haddow LLP
M&E Engineer: Harley Haddow LLP
Cost Consultant: Thomson and Bethune
CDM Co-ordinator: Summers Inman
Contractor: Balfour Beaty
Photographer: Andrew Lee