Page\Park Architects repairs and redevelops St Cecilia’s concert hall

Page\Park Architects was appointed to redevelop, conserve and repair Scotland's oldest purpose-designed concert hall

Words by Amanda Birch
All Images: Jim Stephenson

St Cecilia’s Hall, located within UNESCO’s World Heritage site in Edinburgh’s Old Town, is of great international importance. Originally built in 1763 and Category A listed, the auditorium is Scotland’s oldest purpose-designed concert hall.

Now owned by Edinburgh University, the building’s museum contains many of the world’s best-preserved early keyboard instruments. But in spite of its architectural significance, St Cecilia’s had gradually been overwhelmed by buildings as Edinburgh’s New Town grew.

Page\Park Architects was appointed to redevelop, conserve and repair the building to enable St Cecilia’s to become the principal destination for musical instrument display, teaching and performance.

‘We saw the building as an old instrument that had fallen into disrepair and needed a new mouthpiece to bring people in,’ says Eilidh Henderson, lead architect and director at Page\Park Architects. ‘One particular instrument in the collection, a harpsichord that was highly decorated inside, became the starting point for our architectural response. The project then developed into lifting the lid on St Cecilia’s Hall, cracking open the door to reveal it to the world.’

Within the Concert Room, a soft pink, textured, upholstery was employed on top of the fixed seatingWithin the Concert Room, a soft pink, textured, upholstery was employed on top of the fixed seating

To create a legible, public face to the museum and concert hall, an unsympathetic 1960s addition was removed. This move allowed for a new stunning entrance on Niddry Street to be built. Henderson describes the addition as a ‘battery pack’ containing all the supporting functions, including a double-height entrance foyer at ground floor and staff accommodation and services on the upper levels.

The rich colours, textures and patterns of the 1725 harpsichord informed the architectural response, cementing the relationship between the building and the collection. For example, the shape of the instrument’s lid referenced the opening gates. Meanwhile, the beautifully choreographed flowers and parrots of the instrument inspired both the intricate treatment of the perforated bronze stainless steel façade and the subtle pattern of the exposed concrete soffit of the entrance foyer and gilded ceilings.

The building is also home to a museumThe building is also home to a museum

The interior palette stemmed from the materials in the collection. Black oak was employed for the floors and walls to provide a warm, neutral backdrop that offsets the instruments’ rich gilding and the new concrete and limestone finishes. The black oak also intensifies the visitor experience.

‘Volumetrically, people arrive in a double-height space, and like air being squeezed through an instrument are funnelled up into a tight, twisting, black oak-lined entrance staircase, which reflects the Serpent, a beautiful bass wind instrument housed in the museum,’ says Henderson. ‘Visitors then enter a new ramped link to the existing ground floor galleries.’

To enliven the interior, flashes of raspberry leather were used for the upholstered fixed seating in the foyer and to line the demountable panels within one of the principal galleries. Within the Concert Room, a soft pink, textured, upholstery was employed on top of the fixed seating.

‘We sought to rationalise and enhance the supporting spaces to reinforce the importance of the magnificent room at its centre,’ says Henderson.

Since St Cecilia’s Hall re-opened in May 2017, visitor numbers have surged, a clear indication that Page\Park Architects’ sensitive re-working of the historic building has been a great success.

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