Ross Pavilion International Design Competition

A place for assembly, song and dance in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens

We were delighted to be invited alongside West 8 Landscape Architects to submit proposals in the international design competition for the redevelopment of the Ross Pavilion and West Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. West Princes Street Gardens links the new town Princes Street to the Old Town castle rock in a spectacular landscape setting, a remarkable garden of flowers and commemoration, a place to meander, gather and celebrate the seasons’ events. Our proposal sought to protect and enhance this unique garden in the city.

In the classical garden tradition there is a type of grotto fed by springs, a place for assembly, marriage, song and dance – the Nymphaeum. We imagined our new centre, carved into the landscape as a grotto stage at the foot of the castle rock, memories of the drained waters of the old ‘Nor Loch’ the creative spring, wings lined in pillars of stone echoing the modern henge memorial to the Royal Scots, topped with a movable copper roof in the spirit of the elegant mechanism of the ‘Ross Fountain’.


The grid of New Town streets meet the edge of the Gardens in a series of clever hidden diagonal paths. We picked up this pattern in the triangulated geometry of the new stage roof. Seen from above, the faceted form becomes an abstract expression of the rugged castle rock, mediating between the sweep of wild meadow at its foot and the cultivated Princes Street flowerbeds across the valley. The circular geometry of the tiered Ross Fountain and sweep of the Royal Scots Monument were reflected in the curved embrace of the stage wings and beyond to the arced seating of the amphitheatre.

The original Ross Pavilion provided clues on how to nestle a building in the garden. We adopted this idea to conceal the support accommodation in a wrap around the stage, embedding the volume in the setting, with the public activities of performance, cafe and events spaces fronting the gardens. The large new stage acts as an enclosed performance space with the stage wall in place, but with the ability to transform the stage setting from indoor to outdoor mode, from small scale performance to large scale event.

The series of curving geometries ripple through the gardens, blending city, garden and wild landscape under new canopies. The gardens become accessible to a broader range of users with the amphitheatre acting as a giant ramp connecting the lower and upper paths, with pause points that provide level areas for seating and control. By simplifying the existing landscape and using design cues to enhance way-finding, the improved flows create a sense of tranquillity. The garden again becomes a place.

Project Info

The Ross Development Trust
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
Structural Engineer
M&E Engineer
Acoustic Consultant
Landscape Architect
West 8
Performance Consultant
Planning Consultant
Muir Smith Evans