Re-join the City
King’s Stables Road and its environs sit on the necklace of spaces that surround Edinburgh Castle and form gateways to the Castle Rock, Princes Street Gardens and the streets and squares of Old and New Town; yet creeping Twentieth Century industrialisation left it partially derelict, inaccessible, and blocking local permeability. The necklace was broken. Thus, when tasked with design work for this regeneration site, we saw the design challenge as not just to fix the site itself but to do it in such a way that the wider context could also be healed – for the site to re-join the city.
The project had to respond to the requirements of its location within a UNESCO World Heritage site, tourist destination and thoroughfare, but also to the challenges of a dynamic modern city. The spaces had to be multi-functional, navigable, safe, easily maintained, robustly but beautifully detailed. They had to draw on the past and seek the future through detailing and materiality.
An interrogation of historic mapping to understand the site’s evolving layout and uses was carried out, and then married with a study of local connectivity and typologies. This was then overlaid onto the site, resurrecting historic routes, identifying new links and connecting to the emerging architectural context, responding to proposed new uses and architecture.
This then set the context and framework within which the project would be detailed and delivered.
At the centre of the site, a courtyard gathering space generates a spatial hierarchy allowing varied uses; addressing the public and semi-private alike. Variations in level, material and furniture detail help define these uses and add atmosphere for residents, public and patrons of the new and re-purposed buildings. Planted rain gardens offer integrated water management and reduce the burden of below-ground attenuation on the site’s archaeological heritage as well as to increase biodiversity.
A major part of the site’s history includes the location of Medieval Jousting or ‘Tilting yard’ and stables. Indeed, jousting tournaments were held on this site in honour of King James IV. A tilting yard typically featured a rail down the middle to separate the riders; a Corten rail now runs through this new courtyard, transitioning from an insert within the paving – etched with jousting poles and text referencing the historic context – into an upright rail helping to define the spaces and provide other street furniture along its length. Corten tree grilles feature laser-cut perforations of horses’ hooves, the grille size replicating that of the typical warhorses of the times.
The linearity and materiality is echoed throughout the courtyard and draws out into the peripheral courtyards and connection routes through; Caithness stone, granite sett and step, Corten metal. Solid and robust materials with a weight and presence to echo and match the historic context and provide longevity for the development.
Old Town has always had a strong vertical dimension and the development at Kings Stables Road also uses this foil to create spaces and links to the wider city. Roof gardens and terraces – from private to communal – are set along the roof line, giving unparalleled views up to the Castle and across the roofs and wynds of Old Town. Views directly down into the development showcase the courtyard setting and materiality.
Use is also made of new and existing structures to frame key views and add to the sense of place; within the site, the re-opened and re-generated roads and wynds give long, curated views through the site; whilst set pieces such as the view inwards from under the road bridge, provide a sense of place, scale and layering of history from past to present.
Delivering a scheme so interwoven into the city fabric, and on a tight site was challenging. Though no existing building remained live during the construction period, the various roads, lanes and wynds had to, with rolling and tightly controlled closures for re-surfacing works or work to adjacent structures. But out of this, the spaces and views and sense of place grew through the construction phase.
Close attention from the HarrisonStevens team during site works also helped to resolve the many issues that inevitably arise when dealing with an old, old site with many layers of history and development.
A vibrant but tough planting mix sits within the various spaces, responding to the varying aspect, microclimate, drainage characteristics and level of formality.
Planting helps define a space, to give personality and joy, whilst adding biodiversity and providing shelter to people, invertebrates and other organisms. The tree choice was also key in these respects; a series of smaller multi-stem trees gives shelter but not shade in the deeper and less sunny courtyards, whilst feature trees are located at the entrance to Baird’s Close and as the ‘chargers’ in the Tilting Yard. All give height and volume in spaces which may otherwise have little to connect the vertical and horizonal planes and lend a softening to the hard stone surfaces.
Extensive used of planted rain gardens also contribute to the overall increase in biodiversity and habitats on site, both by the increase in vegetation coverage and forage, but also in terms of providing better quality of water percolating through the soil or running offsite. The rain gardens also minimise disturbance to buried archaeology, which traditional trenching may have harmed.
Planting also plays the part of shaping the spaces as they mature, of giving interest through the seasons and different uses of the spaces. It will mature as the new development matures, and bed Kings Stables Road ever more into its wider setting, the back drop of Old Town and the wooded side of Castle Mount.