A major international competition has been launched today to design a new Ross Bandstand for West Princes Street Gardens. 

The current 2,400-seat venue, built in 1935, is considered no longer fit for purpose. 

The 8,000-person venue which replaces it (work could begin in 2018 and should finish by December 2019) will include a visitor centre with café and ‘improvements to the surrounding landscape’. It is being funded by the Ross Development Trust in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council, although other sources of finance will also be sought.

Many readers think the introduction of a café to St Andrew Square was precisely where the rot set in there, and will regard this new development with some suspicion. The design brief speaks of a visitor centre:

including a viewing platform; café with indoor and outdoor seating; and flexible spaces and support facilities for a range of uses including small-scale performances, community meetings, events and workshops – transformable into hospitality suites for large events. 

Revitalising and re-energising

As well as redesigning the bandstand, the Ross Fountain will be restored (see Breaking news, 10.1.17) and three rainshelters next to the Floral Clock will be refurbished. The combined cost of the scheme is estimated at around £25m.

Also, the bridge accessing King’s Stable Road will be replaced. Significantly, the current structure is not strong enough to bear the weight of the huge cranes needed to erect funfair attractions.

‘This is a unique opportunity for an architect to re-imagine one of the most stunning settings in Scotland,’ says CEC’s Culture Covenor and Festival & Events Champion Richard Lewis. ‘This design competition is a unique chance to revitalise the venue and the surrounding gardens.’

The Competition Director, Malcolm Reading, says, ‘The competition will create not only a civic emblem but also a living entity, a much-needed platform at the heart of the city, for national and local events, to re-energise this valued green space’.

Noisiness compatible with tranquility

Growing pressure on the Gardens’ current gardenlike peacefulness is exemplified by this passage from the competition design brief:

The new Pavilion must be compatible with the different existing and potential botanical, civic, cultural and commemorative uses of West Princes Street Gardens, which include a tranquil respite from the surrounding urban area; a daily venue for small-scale indoor and outdoor events; and a space for occasional large-scale outdoor events attracting up to 8000 people (3000 seated, 2000 standing and 3000 elsewhere in the Gardens).

However, competition entrants are expected to consult residents and heritage bodies as well as festival producers.

How to pronounce Edinburgh

Norman Springford, Chairman of the Ross Development Trust and Chair of the competition jury says, ‘We would like the Pavilion to have an original design of international quality and significance that says “Edinburgh”’.

A giant overspilling wheelie bin springs to mind.

Anyone wishing to enter the competition has until 13 March, and can do so here.

Alternatively, we welcome your informal suggestions at and @theSpurtle and Facebook

Image top-right: Kim Traynor, Creative Commons



@theSpurtle So the "valued green space" needs to be "re-energised"? Tranquillity not so much valued then - bring on the funfair...

Avalanche Records  Avalanche Records ‏@avalanche_edin  

@EdinburghSSC @theSpurtle @KenWilson84 The official capacity of the Grassmarket approved by health and safety is an unbelievable 10,000.

Anne Anne ‏@annewitha_e 

@theSpurtle let's design even more horrific modern structures which cud b anywhere in the world.Edinburgh is 4visitors what about residents?

Broughton Spurtle ‏@theSpurtle 

@EdinburghSSC Like the sound of a greener, softer amphitheatre, but we've seen how well grass responds to footfall here in the past …

Paul Foley What's not to like

  Alan Kennedy Initial reaction - Oh God!

"transformable into hospitality suites for large events" fills me with dread, this is a public park. I don't want to see it carved up into exclusive "hospitality" venues for corporate sponsors for festival events and Hogmanay.

Roy Kilpatrick Obviously, the planners and their boffins never visit Princes Street Gardens or enjoy the peace and quiet and feel the marvel of looking to the Castle Rock and the ridge that forms Edinburgh's Old Town spine. Otherwise, they would appreciate how the modesty of the Ross bandstand fits well with the enjoyment of a place to breathe, meet and cut through from the constant movement of the Street to the mix of the West End, Grassmarket and Usher Hall areas. If they want a suggestion, reflood it before you turn it into another entertainment park!

John Cromb I do feel that the bandstand should be remodelled, and some improvements to the gardens but the green oasis of the place should be kept. Not sure if millions are spent it's not going to be ruined like St Andrews square, the Mound and the East End of the gardens. Which become no go areas for residents six months of the year. Here's an idea perhaps CEC should concern itself with running the city i.e. Cleaning the streets and providing services and housing for the people who bank roll it ... you and me!
Yes visitor revenue is important, I suspect they see us residents as an inconvenience.

Dominic Berry A stadium for 8,000 people in Princes Street gardens, and the bridge replaced so that it can accommodate the huge cranes needed to erect funfair attractions, all at a cost of £25 million. The rape of Edinburgh by its council continues.

Avalanche Records Avalanche Records ‏@avalanche_edin
@theSpurtle If the @oldRoyalHigh experience is repeated they'll want something bland so as not to detract from the castle !

@avalanche_edin Hopefully, not bland, but not screaming for attention either. @oldRoyalHigh

Avalanche Records Avalanche Records ‏@avalanche_edin

RossDevelopmentTrust ‏@TheRDtrust  

@avalanche_edin @theSpurtle We can assure you it won't be bland, but very careful consideration is being made to the sensitivity of the site


Ken Wilson Ken Wilson ‏@KenWilson84 

@avalanche_edin @EdinburghSSC @theSpurtle build it and they will come

Ken Wilson Ken Wilson ‏@KenWilson84 

@ZenoWatson @YoorWullie @theSpurtle CEC seem to be determined to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, to coin a phrase!

@KenWilson84 No pink hotel as far as I know. @ZenoWatson @YoorWullie Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi - YouTube
 Dominic Berry This will be truly gigantic: in terms of numbers, four times the size of the Usher Hall. Princes Street gardens will cease to be predominantly a garden. And with such a vast facility, built at tremendous cost, there will be pressure to fill it more or less constantly, with the result that the rest of the gardens, especially the lawns, will be degraded in exactly the way that St Andrew Square has been. And then there will the noise. This won't be a bandstand as traditionally understood, i.e. a covered platform on which brass bands play sprightly tunes to people sitting in deck chairs during the summer months. It will be a venue for rock concerts, with the noise carrying as far as Trinity and Bruntsfield. In short, it will be a desecration of Princes Street gardens, and a scandalous waste of public money.
 Broughton Spurtle To be precise: the seated capacity would increase from 2,400 to 3,000, with another 2,000 standing. A further 3,000 would be standing outside in the Gardens, somewhere. Whichever way you cut it, this still sounds like a huge increase in pedestrian traffic. Regardless of the eventual design triumph, we know from St Andrew Square experience that people don't stick to paths. We know trees are easily damaged by footfall, and that grass in a northern clime is slow to regrow. And you're right, giving the site a more commercial purpose will inevitably lead to the downgrading of non-profit-generating activities such as veg-ing out with green thoughts in a green shade. Am open to persuasion, but at this stage very very concerned.
 Dominic Berry And here is how it is to be paid for.
 David El Ese Dominic, virtually everything you have said is incorrect. The capacity f the venue will not increase. At Hogmanay the gardens hold 5000 around the Bandstand and 3000 in the rest of the garden area. The current site of the bandstand will in fact be drastically reduced with the current concrete bowl bring return to green space and opening it up to use by the anyone in the Gardens. Although the it is called a 'bandstand' it is clear that it is not that nor has been since 1935. There will be no more large scale events than there are currently, the main use of this new venue will be for small local groups who require a place to perform and what a location to do so. Finally it is being privately funded with not a penny of council money being used. They actually mention all this on their website but i suppose it is easier to criticise and moan before doing any reading whatsoever on the subject you're talking about.
 Rhona Stewart Cameron Get rid of these philistines who come up with this rubbish.
 Mary Anne Robinson Who wrote this brief? It is awful on so many levels. Where is the concept of community participation indesign? Where is the advocate for our green spaces? This is beyond the pale.
LooseEnd LooseEnd ‏@lattegirl10
@theSpurtle We had a competition to design Scottish Parliament and look what we got! Heaven help us with this :(
reggie tricker reggie tricker ‏@reggietricker 
Not what Edinburgh needs. April 1st already? Edinburgh's priorities should not be replacing characterful relicts with more glass and steel

I have grave misgivings about this project, could bring architectural carnage to the South Side of Princes St for the first time

Stuart Hay Stuart Hay ‏@StreetWurrier
.@theSpurtle @thecockburn @TheBEFS design exercise should start with a @ScotGovPlanning Place Standard to understand the gardens

.@richardlew @TheRDtrust Please clarify: (1) who framed the design brief/when & whether it can be changed; (2) reasons for replacing bridge.

.@thecockburn We hear alarm bells over West Princes Street Gardens. Are they yours? 
 Dominic Berry Here's a reminder of what this part of the gardens looked like before the current Ross Bandstand was built. Why don't we just remove the bandstand and go back to lawns and trees? It would be the cheapest option, and would give the most beautiful result -- and future generations would thank us.
 Paul Burgess The present structure desperately needs replacing. But with something sympathetic to its setting. Can we trust the council to deliver? I think not.
 Paul Burgess We will soon all have the opportunity to vote the current occupants of city Chambers out of office. Do your complaining at the ballot box. And let's have some hustings from the new council candidates!
 Broughton Spurtle Spurtle has no party-political affiliation. But we're determined to get Edinburgh's built heritage and use of public space on the agenda for Council elections in May. We urge everyone to contact candidates and ask for clarity about their vision and policies.

Email from David Young: What 'says "Edinburgh"' to me? This, perhaps …

West Princes Street Gardens
55° 57' 2.916" N, 3° 11' 48.5952" W