St. Cecilia’s Hall Concert Room & Music Museum

A new ‘mouthpiece’ for a much loved musical instrument

People, like air, move through the new mouthpiece entrance to breathe new energy into the building. This stance informed all of the architectural moves that we made in our approach to the redevelopment of the existing Category A-Listed building complex. The context for this project was the desire by the University of Edinburgh to improve awareness, function and amenity of St. Cecilia’s Hall, as an appropriate home for their world-class collection of musical instruments.

Whilst operating as a free, publicly accessible museum, St. Cecilia’s Hall is also a vital part of the University of Edinburgh as a facility for learning, cultural exchange and research. Since re-opening, the building has been used in a myriad of ways for teaching events, publicly guided tours, as a venue for Edinburgh International Festival and for the continued conservation of the instrument collection.


The removal of the 1960’s Caretakers Flat unlocked the opportunity to create a new public entrance and provide all of the ancillary facilities required to run the contemporary museum and concert room facility. The new four storey entrance building houses a double height entrance reception and orientation space with new vertical access, office accommodation, internal plant room and a greenroom above.

In parallel, the existing building was carefully opened up to reveal a new intuitive visitor journey through the instrument collection with vistas from foyers through galleries to the city beyond.


The architectural emblems of the instrument collection are provocative. We like to work with associations, as architecture is not only the physical fabric but the ideas and thoughts that influence it. Our embracing new ‘L’ volume becomes imagined as an instrument, taking cues in form, texture and materiality from the qualities of the collection – rooting the building in its setting.

This significant cultural project aspired to enhance the existing building setting and musical instrument collection contained within the remarkable grouping of rooms – a wonderful opportunity to create a sensitive yet bold new piece of civic architecture within the Old Town context.


St Cecilia’s Hall is Scotland’s oldest purpose designed Concert Hall. Since its original construction, Category A listed St Cecilia’s has undergone many changes. There have been a series of owners who have adapted the building fabric to accommodate their own particular uses. Most significantly, in 1812, then proprietors the Freemasons completed construction of the two-storey building to the Cowgate and latterly a programme of radical alteration, extension and reinstatement work was carried out in the 1960’s when the University of Edinburgh acquired the building.

A programme of fabric repair works was undertaken with a conservation philosophy to undertake works necessary to safeguard the building and, where intervening, to express as new and distinctive. Stone and mortar samples were undertaken by the Scottish Lime Centre to allow the exact specification and composition of the existing fabric to be understood prior to undertaking any repair works. In addition, the feature rooflight within the historic concert hall was failing and required replacement. This required the slim glazing bar profile to be studied and a matching profile to be made to replicate the elegant aesthetic while incorporating the improved contemporary acoustic criteria. A programme of specialist leadwork was undertaken across all existing roof areas.

Safeguarding the building for future generations whilst reinvigorating the local environment were two significant conservation achievements of the project. The redevelopment project and conservation works have made the building fit for purpose for 21st century use, ensuring its longevity and fulfilling its original purpose.


The highly decorated soundboard of the 1725 Francis Coston double-manual harpsichord provided the inspiration for the embellishment of the bronze stainless entrance facade to Niddry St. The parrot and flower patterns of the harpsichord interior were also subtly embossed into the exposed concrete soffit of the entrance foyer and incised into the gilded ceilings in the support accommodation.

The selection of loose furniture and design of bespoke fitted furniture was directly informed by the briefing workshops carried out with the School. Bespoke graphic working of the glazed partitions, exhibition and wayfinding signage complete the final layer.

Project Info

University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Old Town
Internal Floor Area
March 2017
Structural Engineer
David Narro Associates
M&E Engineer
Harley Haddow LLP
Fire Engineer
Atelier 10
Acoustic Consultant
New Acoustics
Cost Consultant
Thomson Bethune
CDM Co-ordinator
CDM Scotland
Interserve Construction Ltd.
Jim Stephenson
Interpretation & Exhibition Design
Studio SP