Housing \ The Crescent at Donaldson's

The former Donaldson's School for the Deaf is one of the most distinctive buildings in Edinburgh and was designed by Edinburgh's foremost architect, William Playfair, in the 1840s. BuiIt in the style of a Jacobethan Palace, the 12,400 sq m quadrangular form and central tower and four corner towers each with octagonal turrets is arguably one of the most important structures in Edinburgh and a very recognisable part of the city’s skyline. Its is listed Grade A.

Richard Murphy Architects’ involvement began when Cala Homes purchased the site in 2003 and the project developed as a conversion of the original building and gatehouse into apartments, and the design of a crescent of new apartments on the north side. Planning permission and Listed Building Consent were achieved in 2006 but the project was put on hold during the recession in 2008. Eventually it re-emerged and Cala decided to concentrate on the new build and sell the listed building to Essex based developers City and Country. The practice was re-appointed by both developers for their respective sections although the briefs were changed significantly by both. Cala requested an increase in the size and number of units in the new crescent and City and Country decided to develop every part of the historic building including attics and vaulted basement rooms (hitherto ignored by Cala), and also to ask for a very wide variety of apartments within the otherwise repetitive internal plan.

A new planning permission was achieved for both developers in 2016 and residents started moving into the Cala development  in 2019 with the last apartment sold in 2023. The inspiration for the crescent comes from nearby crescents in the New Town. It is broken in the centre to allow a view out to the valley of the Water of Leith and the skyline to the north as well as a view into the site to see the original chapel. The building is five storeys high; ground floor apartments have extensive rear gardens and penthouses have large roof terraces. In between is an apartment below a maisonette each having a 1.5 storey high living room taking up the equivalent of the three middle storeys. This interesting sectional idea allows large living spaces looking at the historic building and deep light penetration to allow the development of an extended plan for these apartments. The front elevation windows were developed so that when slid away they are invisible from the interior and the living room effectively is transformed into a veranda. In total 84 apartments were created varying from 1 bedroom apartments of 110 sq m to 240 sq m 3 bedroom penthouses. Corner apartments at the ends of the two crescent halves are exploited with large corner windows. An underground garage runs under the entire crescent.

A video of Richard Murphy answering questions about the development is here.

Architects Richard Murphy, Matt Bremner, Graeme Armet, John Lyons, Martin Lambie
Landscape Architects Open
Structural Engineers Harley Haddow
Service Engineers Harley Haddow
Quantity Surveyors Thomson Gray
Client Cala Homes
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