The Richness of Dance
Dance Base, opened in June 2001, has brought to the café/bar melee that is the modern Grassmarket a calming, civilising, elevating artistic focus that re-establishes a hierarchy absent since the now-demolished Corn Exchange fulfilled the same role towards the agricultural marketplace.
This is a building which gains its richness and beauty from the simplicity of its response to its physical, historic, cultural and sensory context. While the best modern Scottish architecture always engages with the first of these, Dance Base may be unusual in emphasising simplicity, and a response to the sensory, in place of an accumulation of architectural detail.
A collage of studios
Dance Base is not so much a building as a collage of studios and routes, each of the four studios representing, in its relationship to the world around it, a little utopia. Our four little utopias are:
• of the Grassmarket, with it’s story of the City; • of the Edinburgh skyline, from the Castle rock; • a pavilion of weight and light with its garden, yin and yang; and • of the sky reaching down to lift us up.
The four studios are woven together by movement: the movement between them and into them – movement towards and into light – but also the movement within them: from samba to Scottish Country Dance the interwining, creative patterning of the eternal double helix dance, at times four little art machines whirring away, lifting the whole building
Movement into the building and its studios is made simple, with changes in direction only happening on stairs or at the commanding reception area. People are drawn towards light falling through stair courts and glass block floors, to emphasise destinations and the main vertical movement systems. Thresholds are then marked with colour, drama (the crossing of glass block and sheet glass floors) and enclosure.
Sensory engagement therefore comes through engagement with the sky, or with sound (or lack of it), sun, view, smell (the garden) and even temperature (the glass roofed, though unheated and unenclosed entrance court).
Alongside these relationships to context, Dance Base is intimately linked into its physical and historical context. In its development of the abandoned backlands, re-use, repair and expansion of physical elements and traditional mediaeval urban patterns (Close, Vennel and Flodden Wall) and provision of elements of amenity (the Park at Granny’s Green) Dance Base reinvigorates the area, at the same time gaining in itself from those relationships.
Awards European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Shortlist 2003 Edinburgh Architectural Association: Silver Medal 2002 Civic Trust Award 2002 RIBA Award 2002 (shortlisted for the Stirling Prize) RIAS Award for Architecture: Scottish Building of the Year 2002 Adapt Trust Access Award (Stirling) 2002 Dynamic Place Awards, High Commendation 2002 Scottish Design Awards, Chairman’s Award for Architecture 2002 Herald “Festival Angel” Award, Edinburgh Festival 2001
Contract information Dance Base (National Centre for Dance), Grassmarket, Edinburgh Arts Lottery Award, completed June 2001, £4.25m Client – Dance Base