New Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 2020
The project to build a new Filmhouse in Festival Square can be traced to 2004 when Richard Murphy proposed the idea to the Filmhouse Board. That design, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in the same year, never progressed to a planning application. Since then the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse have merged to form the "Centre for the Moving Image" and in 2019 the new Board commissioned two feasibility studies from the practice: one looking at a complete rebuild of the existing Filmhouse site on Lothian Road and the second to look again at Festival Square. The Board decided to progress with the second option. The City Council has agreed to lease the site to the Filmhouse and to the principle of constructing a Filmhouse there.
The project has three objectives:
Firstly, it is an acknowledgement that film is the only art form without its "temple" in the city. Music, painting, portraiture, artefacts, archaeology etc. all have their prominent monuments but film, arguably the most popular and quintessentially 20th century art form, exists behind the facade of a 19th century church (which itself is in much need of refurbishment).
Secondly, it is an attempt to solve the "problem" of Festival Square, a public space created in the 1980's from a former railway goods yard as part of a wider master-plan. The Square is formed by two office buildings to north and south, the Sheraton Grand Hotel to the west (the Sheraton Hotel has two entrances and this is its minor entrance) and Lothian Road the east. The Square is usually a deserted space. A new Filmhouse, being the only Arts building that opens its doors from 900am to 1200 midnight for continual performances has the potential to bring life to the space. The City Council have also expressed their intention to traffic calm the adjacent section of Lothian Road in order to unite the square with the re-landscaped space outside the Usher Hall.
And thirdly, the Filmhouse want to increase dramatically their activity as well as their prominence. The proposal is to create a "community of film"...watching film, discussing film, educating about film and making film all happening alongside each other in one building. So the brief now includes seven auditoria totalling just under 1000 seats, educational rooms, festival spaces, offices both for administration and film production, outdoor cinema on the roof and cafe, bar and restaurant.
The project design has started from the objective of making a minimal footprint within the square and, acknowledging the "wider square intention," it deliberately aligns with the entrance to the Usher Hall. An "object building," in the square (in the great historical tradition), the slender footprint of the building takes just 18% of the public space and frames the asymmetrical entrance of the Hotel. The main entrance faces the Usher Hall with two subsidiary entrances to north and south. A cafe/ bar with box office and shop constitute the social heart of the building. The cafe is located along both the main elevations with external seating to both north and south. Downstairs is a larger bar seen immediately on entry but also through paving glazing on both north and south sides. This leads down to a concourse below which gives access to six of the auditoria. Education rooms sit in between the two levels. The auditoria vary from a 300 seat cinema to a flat floor retractable experimental space. Entering any of the auditoria cinemas goers pass through a shaft of space lit by the paving lights above. The lowest level is reserved for kitchens and plant and "green room" for visiting film celebrities.
A seventh auditorium with its own foyer is at the next level above the cafe. This is designed for "special events" and for hire to outside organisations and, unusually, has a window to Usher Hall and Castle which is replaced by the screen when a film is about to start with the view reappearing at the end. When not in use the auditorium can be seen from Lothian Road reminding passers-by of the core function of the building. The seats can be retracted for flat floor events. Offices for Filmhouse and film festival are above this, and at the next level is a restaurant with external roof terrace Finally the highest level is a roof top bar which can also be used for external film shows in the summer months.
Externally the building is clad mostly in linet glass with variable lighting and includes two giant screens to show changing images of films. Sandstone dressed to match the Usher Hall is included to front and rear.
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