Housing \ The Playfair 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 was 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 developers City and Country. The practice was re-appointed by both developers in 2014 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.

City & Country have a considerable record of redeveloping historic buildings for residential use in the south of England  but this was their first venture in Scotland. 119 units were created with many different variations. The main classrooms were high enough to allow a mezzanine floor for bedrooms and living room floors were raised so that residents could see out of the classroom windows (typically, placed high enough not to allow children to look out). Some attic apartments have roof terraces in a magical world of Playfair’s chimneys and finials. The chapel was subdivided but the original volume can still be appreciated at the junction with the main building. Underground car parks were placed under the lawn on both sides of the building. The formal landscaping immediately around the building and within the courtyard was inspired by Elizabethan gardens.

Architects Richard Murphy, Bill Black, Gareth Jones, Tom Armistead, Sylvia Horsburgh, Angus Black, Paul Pattinson, Jonathan Millard
M&E Engineers Harley Haddow
Landscape Architect Open
Acoustic Consultant RMP
Fire Consultant Astute Fire
Client  City and Country


2018 The Herald Property Awards - Judges Award for the Playfair Building
2018 Scottish Home Awards - Apartment Development of the Year & Renovation of the Year for the Playfair Building
2018 WhatHouse? Best Renovation Gold Award 2018 - Playfair Building


9 September 2023 Property interview: Simon Vernon-Harcourt on the design challenges of the Donaldson's project The Scotsman
6 July 2017 First Look: Donaldson's School Transformed into Luxury Flats Edinburgh Evening News
September 2015 Residential plans submitted for Donaldson's College Scottish Construction Now
September 2015 Richard Murphy outlines Donaldson's College plan BD
September 2015 Dramatic new plans for historic Donaldson's School Edinburgh Evening News
August 2015 Revealed: New look for old Donaldson's College site The Herald
August 2015 Another stage in the planning process for Donaldson's The Edinburgh Reporter
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