Last week I had the chance to revisit Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in north Edinburgh, and to see the new building that is now their home. I was there to do a recording for BBC Radio Scotland’s Culture Café show – you can hear the piece on Iplayer by following this link.
The new building, which cost £3.5 million to build, has been largely funded by Creative Scotland, and partly by a fund-raising campaign by ESW. Edinburgh City Council also gifted them the land on which it is all built. The £3 million Arts Prize for Edinburgh, which they won in 2010, will help with a second stage of development, which will create an open artists courtyard with further studio spaces, a tower, and a public café.
Back in 2010, when I first visited them, they were still based in a homely but somewhat run-down old railway building next to the Hawthornvale cycle path.
I liked the feel of the old site – the tree lined railway cutting created the feeling of a small, valley in the midst of urban north Edinburgh, a secret centre for art production. The vibe in the building itself was gritty and business-like, filled with noise and machinery and sculpture in various stages of construction.
It won’t be a secret anymore though.
The new building alone dwarfs the old white shed, though it maintains something of the simplicity and industrial feel of the original home. A functional building of white brick built on three floors, one of the architects from Sutherland Hussey described it as a steel framed building with a large shed on top, which houses a series of simple white studios with skylights for the artists.
From the perspective of the cycle path, it’s somewhat imposing, but from the street level it has a lower profile. The façade is glass and white brick, with views into the offices, rather than the studios. Inside, the building is clean and white, the central staircase channelling light from a skylight all the way down to the bottom of the building.
The basement area is solid and industrial in feel, with exposed pipework, high ceilings and double doors – all designed to allow access to a forklift truck anywhere on that floor. Much of the outside of the building, particularly the side facing the cycle path, is enclosed by a strong steel cage, which creates a space in which artists can work.
Because the new building would be open to the cycle path, without an external fence, the architects explained that this covering would allow artists working outside to be able to leave their work without having to worry about security. The mesh allows light in, and also allows cyclists and pedestrians to see glimpses of artists at work, but without the sculptors feeling like they are working in a gold-fish bowl.
Over-all I was impressed with the building, although I think it will only start to make full sense once the artists have made it their home, and once phase 2 of the development – paid for by the Arts Prize for Edinburgh – is complete. I’d really like to see it once the site has recovered some of its former tree coverage and green space.
It will certainly create an impressive and possibly uniquely well-equipped centre for sculpture in Edinburgh, and indeed in the whole of the UK.