Richard Murphy Architects
Responsive Menu

St Mary's Music School Relocation To The Former Royal High School, Edinburgh

St Mary's Music School Relocation To The Former Royal High School, Edinburgh

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.

Other Details
Client 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, Mark Donaghy, Daryl Robbins, Calum Dalgetty
CGIs Piotr Kmiotzyk, Organic Visualisations
Structural Engineers David Narro Associates
M&E Engineers Ramboll Environ
Landscape Architects Optimised Environments (Open)
Planning Adviser Montagu Evans

  • 24 September 2016Richard Murphy and Simpson & Brown to table alternate Royal High School VisionUrban Realm
  • 18 August 2016Edinburgh's Royal High School could become Music SchoolBBC News On-line
  • 17 August 2016Plans for Royal High Music School Approved by CouncillorsEdinburgh Evening News
  • 14 December 2015D-day for £75m plans to turn former Royal High School into luxury hotel after Edinburgh planners recommend rejectionThe Herald
  • 09 December 2015Richard Murphy unveils rival plans for Calton HillArchitects' Journal
  • 08 December 2015Royal High School concert hall plan showcasedUrban Realm
  • 08 December 2015Music plans for former Royal High School building formally submittedSTV
  • 08 December 2015Alternative Royal High School plans submittedScottish Construction Now
  • 08 December 2015Five things you need to know today Edinburgh!The Edinburgh Reporter
  • 07 December 2015New fly-through video shows how old Royal High School in Edinburgh would look as a concert hallThe Herald
  • 05 December 2015Music to the ears of Royal High criticsThe Times
  • 01 December 2015World heritage body backs Royal High music school bidThe Scotsman
15 Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1RW | Tel 0131 220 6125 |