Arts & Culture \ National Centre for Music, Previous Proposals

Previous proposals for the former Royal High School showing accommodation for music performance spaces and for a new St Marys Music School

This project promoted by the Royal High School Preservation Trust envisages creating a residential music school for the St Mary’s School as well as creating within the original Thomas Hamilton building three performance and rehearsal spaces and a new foyer for the use of both the public and the school. The Royal High School constructed between 1826 and 1829 by Thomas Hamilton (1784-1858), is one of the most important Greek revival buildings in the world and together with the concept of Edinburgh as the “Athens of the North”, with Calton Hill as the new Acropolis, it forms part of a much wider composition, and is seen from many vantage points around the city. Vacated by the school in 1968, it was altered by the PSA in the 1970’s to form a home for the Scottish Parliament, but was never used as such. 

Our project envisages the demolition of the “Wilson Buildings” built at the beginning of the twentieth century and the creation of state of the art accommodation for the school in low lying new buildings to the north and east of the existing building. In this way, the original setting of the building against Hamilton’s retaining wall, complete with belvedere, can be re-exposed.  Teaching accommodation takes place on one level and a lower level is residential accommodation for 70 children, grouped around courtyards. The roof of the residential accommodation forms part of the play area at teaching level. Three octagonal “pepper pots” internally consisting of clusters of individual practice rooms are proposed to the north and east and these align on plan with the octagonal roof lights of Hamilton’s building. 

The entrance to the school remains where it always was on the north side adjacent to a new garden created on the western approach, controlled by the school, but open to the public. The extravagant and highly modelled sequence of external staircases to the main assembly room on the prominent south elevation of the Thomas Hamilton building will be transformed into a public entrance. From Regent Road nothing will appear to have changed, but once patrons enter one of Hamilton’s two entrance staircase sequences they will discover a new lowered terrace, giving access to a foyer placed under the main assembly hall.  This terrace also connects to remodelled terraces to the east and west as well as a broad flight of stairs up to Hamilton’s terrace level from which a panorama of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat etc can be seen. 

The new foyer is partially made from existing vaults and storerooms which are to be removed and partially excavating into the hillside.  A sequence of dramatic concrete arches gives a whalebone structure to the soffit and supports the raked floor above. The foyer will be lit by dramatic ceiling glazing which replaces the stone flooring of the portico.  This device dramatises the entrance to the foyer, focuses attention on the portico soffit and allows sunlight to penetrate to the rear of the foyer without being visible from the outside. It also gives a dramatic up-lighting to the portico at night. To either side of the foyer are identical new staircases (removing those installed by the PSA) which take patrons to all three performance spaces above.  

The main performance space envisages a variety of stage settings, automated by hydraulic floors, but with the building retaining its essence as a raked debating chamber format, albeit, amended for concert audience use.  The original staircases and the grand door to the south portico will be restored and an organ placed on the north elevation. 

Administration is placed in the western wing of the Hamilton Building and a teaching and dining room is placed in the eastern section.

Client The Royal High School Preservation Trust in association with St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh
Architects Richard Murphy Architects in association with Simpson & Brown Architects
The Team Richard Murphy, James Mason, Angus Bolland, Iain McHale, Karel Kulm
CGIs Piotr Kmiotzyk, Organic Visualisations
Quantity Surveyor   Morham + Brochie
Structural Engineers David Narro Associates
Landscape Architects Optimised Environments (Open)
Planning Adviser Montagu Evans



6 October 2023 Latest plans for former Royal High School redevelopment unveiled
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5 October 2023 Music centre vision for former Royal High School unveiled Scottish Construction Noew
5 October 2023 Edinburgh: New vision for 'iconic' former Royal High School The Herald
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10 January 2023 Richard Murphy on ‘unlocking’ the Old Royal High School The Edinburgh Reporter
28 May 2022 Historic school gates restored and revived at Edinburgh landmark ahead of rebirth Edinburgh Evening News
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08 October 2021 Edinburgh's old Royal High School: new future gets unanimous approval The Scotsman
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07 October 2021 Edinburgh's old Royal High School: new future gets unanimous approval Edinburgh Evening News
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06 September 2021 National music centre back on agenda for Royal High School Scottish Construction Now
04 September 2021 Old Royal High School in Edinburgh could become national music centre The Times
03 September 2021 Benedetti and Dunard in music plan for former Royal High Daily Business
03 September 2021 Edinburgh Royal High National Music Centre Plan The Herald
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24 September 2016 Richard Murphy and Simpson & Brown to table alternate Royal High School Vision Urban Realm
18 August 2016 Edinburgh's Royal High School could become Music School BBC News On-line
17 August 2016 Plans for Royal High Music School Approved by Councillors Edinburgh Evening News
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09 December 2015 Richard Murphy unveils rival plans for Calton Hill Architects' Journal
08 December 2015 Alternative Royal High School plans submitted Scottish Construction Now
08 December 2015 Royal High School concert hall plan showcased Urban Realm
08 December 2015 Music plans for former Royal High School building formally submitted STV
08 December 2015 Five things you need to know today Edinburgh! The Edinburgh Reporter
07 December 2015 New fly-through video shows how old Royal High School in Edinburgh would look as a concert hall The Herald
05 December 2015 Music to the ears of Royal High critics The Times
01 December 2015 World heritage body backs Royal High music school bid The Scotsman
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