In this year’s Edinburgh brochure there were little bikes… inviting us to explore a building by following the extensive network of traffic free paths in the City. A relatively new initiative by those who are passionate about cycling in Edinburgh has resulted in the “Innertube map”, which highlights all the traffic free routes in and around the city, as well as links to other Sustrans national cycle paths. It looks a little like the London tube map, and can be downloaded from the Bike Station website. I used the paper version, with the Spokes map of the city to plan out a potential route. It’s hard planning routes in a city whose geography with which you are not all that familiar; the combination of these two maps, an Edinburgh A to Z and the Doors Open brochure made it a little easier, however. First stop was AiA- how could we ignore a building which was reporting to be one of the oldest buildings in Granton, and combined two of my favourite things, art and architecture? The journey from Haymarket station was wonderful. A quick stop en route at the smartest supermarket ever, Margiotta, whose ceiling has to be seen to be believed (check out the cornice, and the plaster faces.. 38 Haymarket Terrace, trust me, a visual feast to go with the sustenance with a smile) was needed for some in journey snacks. We got into the Innertube network by the red route (Balbirnie Place), then “changing” at Fiveways for the Trinity path. I had been on some of this route a few weeks earlier for Pedal for Scotland and it was nice to re-experience these ex-railway paths which criss-cross the Lothian landscape; they are so well maintained, flat and landscaped that I would challenge anyone not to develop a wholehearted love for cycling after being out and about for a short while on them. We also got to go through a tunnel on the way, what excitement!
At the end of the yellow path one is treated to a fabulous view out to sea, a dramatic full stop to the landscape of the Innertube.
At AiA we learnt the story of Granton Harbour, saw some beautiful artwork and some photographs of urban spaces in the city as well as Granton Improvement Society plans for the area. They were playing the Chariot’s of Fire themetune when we walked up the stairs, it really was quite difficult not to do some sporting themed slow running along with this (this year’s Doors Open programme had a sports theme). Newhaven station was a short trip along the shore and up Craighall Road. This is a community project to renovate the last remaining Caledonian Railway building on the Leith branch line.. here on Google maps you can see a “before” picture, today the station is being converted into a community space for small businesses. The sign made me think of what a beautiful place to work it would be if you were looking for a small office; I am a fan of found poetry.
I really liked what they had done with one of the entrance doors, a nod to the old ticket purchasing through the window.
Lothian bus depot was a short cycle away; not technically on the Innertube but a short hop away via St. Mark’s Park and up Macdonald Road. Ever been through a bus wash? Thought not! This was but one of the things you could do at the depot; sitting in the driving seat, testing your braking skills and having a nosey at the new super environmentally friendly hybrid buses were also on offer. As a bonus, the building itself has some interesting features. We also got some free fairtrade peanut butter, recycled notepad and pen, fairtrade teabags (branded with “route 10” bus) and a bookmark.. all to celebrate the green buses, an unexpected marketing treat.
It is not too far from the depot to the Botanic gardens, again via a short section of Innertube once we got back to the park, and given the fantastic sunny weather a bit of outside greenery seemed an ideal option. The Chinese gardens in the Botanics have a huge selection of plants, and a lovely pagoda structure complete with dragons and eternal knots.
Our final open door of the saturday was the James Muir building. Tom the thoroughly knowledgeable engineer gave us information about the materials used within and outwith the building, with a particular emphasis on timber products. It was very grand designs; “glu-lam” sounded like something Kevin McCloud would talk about, but also the visual effect of the natural materials, sustainable energy features and beautiful decoration was quite stunning. I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
Edinburgh’s cycle population is booming, in our day we saw…
- one tandem
- at least three “tag along” adult bikes which have the large adult bike at the front then a smaller child’s bike at the back
- one super adaptable “compost on the back, full panniers on the front, fully laden” bike
- a family bike which combined a seated trailer for one child, padded seats with a pannier for luggage and a passenger on top and the adult bike at the front
- a dog basket bike (complete with a rather contented bichon frise)
Take your bike on the train and head for Edinburgh.. go and join them. Concluding our day back at Haymaket we ate at a nearby Edinburgh institution, Chop Chop in Morrison Street.. award winning for a reason with beautiful chilli-tofu balance and super friendly staff, very much to be recommended, “can a billion people be wrong?” they say on their restaurant shop front which ordinarily would be a bold claim but we thoroughly enjoyed it as a pleasant and spicy end to our energetic architectural day.
Day two was another train trip, if you book in advance sometimes there are discounted bus tickets with Megabus and Citylink but we had left it until the day so a wee ScotRail day out seemed appealing. Interestingly, if there are 3 or more people, you can get group save tickets on the train which gives you a good deal (even on the day), great value. First stop of day two was the category A listed Beaux-Arts Edinburgh College of Art. As well as the fabulous marble casts, an Anish Kapoor exhibition was in situ, the “Flashback” works. Watching the wax gradually erode away was rather mesmerising. ECA listings note that this is the first time it has been displayed in the UK. Bonus! I did not expect to see an international art exclusive as part of Doors Open Day.
The vaults in South Niddry Street were superbly popular; we had to queue for a while and there was also a rapidly developing line of people behind us, for it was such an unusual attraction. This is a first for me, I don’t think I have ever had to queue to get a place on a Doors Open event before. The spooky ambience created by the guides was very entertaining, at times we could barely see and the grizzly tales of what might have gone on in the arches under South bridge were adding to the atmosphere. The candles which flickered on the walls coupled with the occasional slime green lights gave the impression that former “residents” were still very much about.
Part of the vaults is actually part of a public house called the Rowantree which holds concerts, meals and even weddings.. fortunately in a slightly less spooky area of the building. It is well worth a look, I imagine the acoustics are rather dramatic and it’s not exactly your everyday bar. On the Royal Mile it was particularly noticeable that Jungle City was taking over; dotted around the city are elephants, tigers, orangutans, crocodiles and hornbills to raise awareness of endangered species. I had previously seen “Wow Gorillas!” at Bristol and remember the cow parade in Edinburgh (Superlambanana in Liverpool was particularly good too; yes I am a public art geek at heart). A particularly inviting green furry elephant called “padma” sat outside the alleyway leading to the Cockburn Association, smiling at the passers by. The Cockburn Association help co-ordinate and run events for Doors Open Day in Edinburgh so it was nice to go and say hello. Their garden is a particularly lovely space, it has a rather zen like circular space (good for circular perambulations, deep in contemplation), quite an oasis compared to the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile. The offices were once Moubray House vaults, the brochure noted that they were converted in 1990 and also were once used as air raid shelters.. now they form a beautiful space for the Association to go about their work in heritage and conservation projects.
A converted swimming pool is now the home of Dovecot studios; a weaving and tapestry centre. There was a spectacular sculpture made from weaving and embroidery threads moving its way up the stairs, drawing you in to the viewing gallery. It reminded me of Govanhill baths a little (though no famous curved concrete beams here), the sense of space was enhanced by the light colour scheme and the wooden floors, it must be such a busy space when in use. This building was the first baths open to the Edinburgh public, its new life as a studio attracts local people in through the cafe and exhibition areas, also offering office space to businesses. There are even some flats in the building, and more jungle city inhabitants keeping us company.
Glancing at our booklet, we had hoped to go to the Old College buildings and the Talbot Rice Gallery next, but when we got there unfortunately they were closed, but there were some very busy people working away on the hard landscaping. Off on a wander in the South of the city it was too late in the day to visit the Royal College of Surgeons but we did admire their beautiful palmette gates and the personalised lampposts.
Studio Dub architects had opened their home (and workplace) for all to see at West Cross Causeway. There were images of the former printworks building (once owned by the University of Edinburgh), and a showcase of some of their projects. Rows of inspiring architectural magazines, and some quirky colour choices set off the design rather nicely (especially with the Beetle car outside, a finishing touch to a creative persona). Their work seemed very inspiring, for it also encompassed some rather imaginative buildings, urban design, ecological technology, regeneration, masterplanning… quite a long list for one office! Upstairs, a metal spiral stair led to flat 2, a light and airy space with some rather fine views
The last stop on out tour was the Scotsman Steps, featuring 104 marbles from around the world and leading down to Waverley station. There is a video and news report of them opening on the BBC Scotland website which shows what they used to look like. They are now a light and airy space, with lovely views through the gates to illuminated Princes Street buildings. Quite an end to a whirlwind tour of ten buildings by bike, bus, train and tired feet!