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Edinburgh’s modern architecture has preferred conservation over innovation. In its 1999 bid the city looks for ways to move forward without ignoring the past, discovers Eddie Gibb.

dinburgh‘s ordered grids of Georgian terraces. crescents and squares is a textbook example of co—ordinated town planning. a legacy of an age when ‘New Town‘ meant more than low-cost housing and new-tech business parks.

But it's a legacy that has often stopped Edinburgh from taking the changing needs of a modern. fast- growing city in its stride. Restoration and new buildings which keep a low profile among Edinburgh's built heritage have dominated its tnodern architecture. (And not just in the New Town; just look at that Old Town turrets-and-tiny- windows pastiche. the Scandic Crown Hotel.)

‘The thing Edinburgh has got to face up to is whether it is going to have a future or be just a preserved museum.‘ says Richard Murphy. the best known of a group of young Edinburgh architects kicking against the prevailing ‘in keeping' style of building. ‘Edinburgh has been groping unsuccessfully in my opinion for an architecture with integrity. an architecture of our time.‘

This point has been taken up in the Edinburgh bid to become 1999 City of Architecture which looks for ways to honour the buildings of the past without allowing their stern facades to overshadow distinc- tive. modern architecture. ‘lt would be hard to say the things that were done in the post-war period were definitively Edinburgh or even definitively Scottish.‘ acknowledges bid co-ordinator Peter Wilson.

Educating the public about architecture and design will be a central part of the winning city's bid. Edinburgh believes a design-literate public demands more from its architects. forcing them to take a more constructive look at the future. The cornerstone ofthe Edinburgh bid is an Architecture

and Design Centre. something which Britain lacks

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Robert Adam’s Charlotte Square: classical architecture in the New Town.

but is common on the Continent. The centre is intended as a focus of architectural debate. a place where both the public and professionals can meet to discuss plans for major developments. Entries for architectural competitions could be displayed. which Wilson regards as a useful way of gathering more diverse opinions on modern architecture.

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The new Festival Theatre: a modern glass shell built around the original auditorium.

The 6er is the latest out-of-town ‘shopping experience’ which embraces visitors in its Safeway and Marks and Spencer arms. lt’s tastefully packaged; the use of light-weight materials with a cream and pale green palette makes much of the building's bulk seem to dissolve into the sky. Inside, the extensive use of natural light and a simple layout calmed my usual mall phobia. But what’s on offer is an insipid parody of real life and real architecture - out-of-town shopping mimics the traditional high street but kills the real city centre. Undeterred, a council apparently committed to inner-city regeneration and an environmental agenda was among the backers of the Gyle, effectively helping to starve Edinburgh’s city centre of shoppers and promoting car pollution. Architects: Comprehensive Design/llan Architects. (Elspeth Latimer)

(Elspeth Latimer is a partner with Ungless 8: Latimer Architects and teaches at Edinburgh University.)

14 The List l—I4July I994