Business Comment: Terry Murden

Barmy bronze carbuncle in heart of St James quarter

St James Hotel
New hotel

The latest images for the St James Centre in Edinburgh have revealed plans for a bronze-clad circular hotel that looks like a ball of wool being unwoven.

It has no obvious emphathy with the surrounding architecture and almost seems to be making a point of being a carbuncle of the future.

Much was expected from the £850 million redevelopment of the hated St James, an outdated, cramped and stylistically-challenged blot on the east end of the city centre. Its demolition in September cannot come soon enough.

The New St Andrews House office block, which has been wrapped in chicken wire for years, will not be missed. It formed a centrepiece of the redeveloped area at the top of Leith Walk when a swathe of older buildings, streets and gardens were swept away.

It was once planned as the RBS headquarters. It still peaks hideously over the neighbouring Georgian properties like a giant grey power station and its demise will be a cause for celebration.

The way we were
The way we were. Only buildings on the right survived

The new St James buildings are on a more appropriate scale and they open out to street level, a conspicuous failure of the existing development. Bringing some bustle back to Leith Street alone should be worth the effort. They will be built around a crescent and public space that echoes some of James Craig’s new town design.

But that is where the similarity ends.

The new buildings lack any style or decoration and will skirt around an absurd hotel rotunda that looks like a fairground attraction.

The 210-room hotel, designed by architects Jesitco and Whiles, will include a top-floor bar with panoramic 360 degree views. It may be a valuable addition to the skyscapes of New York or Chicago, but not Edinburgh, an old city that needs to be respected not ridiculed.

The new St James Hotel will win plaudits from those who like their architecture to be innovative, but this just looks gimmicky for the sake of being different.  It is a mistake and somebody needs to stop this folly before more damage is done.

Aerial Shot James 1
Aerial view of St James 1958
Aerial view St James today
St James today, same view

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