The Scottish capital is well known for its gothic and medieval architecture, as well as modern landmarks like the Scottish Parliament building. It’s a city that is continuing to evolve and merge the old with the new, thanks to some large-scale developments on the horizon. Oftentimes, sympathy from project teams to historical areas of the city has ensured that public responses have been positive, though some schemes, such as the massive Edinburgh St James regeneration project, have been much more divisive.
According to JLL’s Investment Intensity Index, Edinburgh is one of only 12 European cities attracting the greatest amount of real estate investment relative to its size. Demand for office space is particularly strong and can be partly credited to a trend for organisations relocating outside London to more affordable locations in the UK.
Global real estate advisor Savills has noted recent positive results from its research into the Edinburgh market. According to its Scottish offices report, Edinburgh’s commercial market remained stable during the first quarter of 2017, with the city’s office takeup reaching 11,900sq m in the city centre and 7,800sq m out of town.
Availability in Edinburgh city centre has remained stable since the end of 2016, following the completion of One Lochrin Square, a 5,900sq m Grade A office space in Fountainbridge by Michael Laird Architects. Another key deal was tech company Cirrus Logic taking 2,100sq m of space on the fifth floor of Quartermile 4. The second quarter of 2017 also started strongly, with State Street Bank pre-letting 6,100sq m at Quartermile 3.
Quartermile 3 and 4 are a part of the wider Quartermile masterplan, one of the largest regeneration schemes in Scotland, named for its location a quarter of a mile from both Edinburgh castle and the city’s exchange district.
The Quartermile development was designed by Foster + Partners and it’s a great example of the vibrant mix of period and modern architecture in the city: the 8ha site is within a conservation area on Edinburgh’s Victorian fringes and includes nine listed buildings. This was formerly the site of the historic Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and falls within a central area of Edinburgh that became a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
Grant Brooker, senior partner at Foster + Partners, explains the need for sensitivity in this location: “Our goal is to reintegrate this wonderful but disconnected part of the city. We recognise the beauty of the fine historical buildings, and we will bring them back to life, then knit them together with calm, contemporary buildings” he says. “It is vital that we do this so that the contrast between old and new highlights the intrinsic qualities of each.”
The completed development will provide office space, housing, hotel, restaurants, cafes and shops, with the commercial buildings framing a new public space. The first phases of the development included Number One Quartermile, an office building that enjoys dramatic views of Edinburgh Castle and forms the gateway to the development. The upcoming office building Quartermile 4 is already fully let and is due to be completed this year; the full project is due for completion in 2019.
Another ambitious scheme is 3-8 St Andrew Square. Designed by Comprehensive Design Architects (CDA) and Hoskins Architects, this major mixed-use development is in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town World Heritage Site. The architects collaborated on the refurbishment/new-build scheme for over a decade, completing the project earlier this year. The development is on the south side of St Andrew Square and comprises 9,300sq m of Grade A office space as well 6,500sq m leisure/retail and apartments.
Nick Domminney, a director of Hoskins Architects, believes it “reinstates a vital part in the composition of south St Andrew Square and enriches its connections to Princes Street, the Gardens and the Old Town beyond”. The project has became a driver in the regeneration of the eastern end of the New Town, another of the city’s sensitive sites.
The architecture features massing projections and recesses to reflect the scale of the historic buildings facing the square. Metal and stone fins enable the building to be very “open” when viewed directly and to take advantage of the impressive long views; they also create a solid aesthetic when viewed by pedestrians, in reference to the neighbouring Georgian and Victorian sandstone buildings
Ongoing developments include The Haymarket, one of Edinburgh’s biggest commercial projects in the last 10 years. Designed by Richard Murphy Architects alongside CDA, it comprises three office buildings (with 3,700sq m office space), 5,600sq m of retail and leisure space, and a 165-bedroom hotel.
While Edinburgh is waiting on some large-scale projects to complete, the supply of office space could become an ongoing problem for the city. Keith Dobson, director in the Edinburgh office agency at Savills, comments: “Edinburgh’s office market is underpinned by consistent levels of tenant activity, driven by professional company lease events and expanding start-ups, against a backdrop of the lowest level of office supply seen in the city since 2004, with a significant lack of good quality and Grade A refurbished second-hand space.”
He expects levels of office take-up to remain consistent for the rest of the year, but adds: “As we enter 2018 this is likely to drop due to an acute shortage of new-build options for occupiers”.
Commercial developments are rising to meet a continuing strong demand for office space in the historic centre of Scotland’s capital