Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) are an organisation that offers a base for artists, providing studios, exhibition spaces, workshops and accommodation.
Over the past 15 years we have been working closely with ESW to assist in their campaign to raise funds to move out of their draughty old railway shed and into a new, purpose built facility. We have done this in two distinct phases, representing two separate funding sources; one through publicly accessible sources such as the Lottery Fund and the second through the Arts Prize - an anonymous donation of £3m for an arts building in Edinburgh.
The two phases represent an exploration into the opposite sides of the ‘arts building’ coin. One, the hermetic, practical, messy side of the making of art and the open, accessible and extrovert of the gallery. They are The Bill Scott Sculpture Centre (Phase 1) and The Creative Laboratories (Phase 2) respectively.
Phase 1 is a compact building containing metal, stone, wood and mixed media workshops with 30 ‘garret’ studios sitting on top and a series of public facing services at street level as well as two autonomous artists lodgings.
This represents the internal needs of the organisation, and of the artist with the thinking and making spaces accounted for, as well as educational facilities which maintain ESW’s focussed creative programmes for the public to engage with sculpture and the arts.
Building this first allowed ESW to decant from their dilapidated shed on the adjacent site, freeing up the land for Phase 2 which is an altogether different building.
Twelve external sculpture bays divided by elegant concrete piers flank two sides of a sunken courtyard inspired by the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto, with a public cafe and the laboratories themselves forming the remaining two sides. This adjoins a new public route from street level down into the previously abandoned railway cutting - now a forming a key component in Edinburgh’s green link cycle network.
The main elevation to the cycle path is clad in brick and metal screens, a reference to the sites industrial past that allows glimpses into the courtyard, revealing the process of making to the public and encouraging passersby to explore within.
The sequence is completed with a 28m tall campanile, left for interpretation by future visiting artists, acting as both a gateway and as a beacon visible to the wider city beyond.
The construction method and materials reflect the function of Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. The building celebrates a working establishment; a factory for the production and development of sculpture. It is designed for robustness and longevity.
The primary structure is in-situ concrete; the bays of the concrete frame forming a cloister around the perimeter of the external space. The bays provide a basic infrastructure that can be used flexibly by ESW as temporary working spaces, areas for storage or exhibition, or to build more permanent internal studios at a later date. The concrete frame is well suited to this purpose as it is robust and long lasting and allows the opportunity to cast in fixing points for other structures.
The continuous gently folded roof is clad with bricks, an extension of the plinth from the first phase. This brick surface folds around the outside of the inner frame forming the external skin to the new building. The stepped public route through the site is also surfaced with the same material.
Openings in the brick and concrete structure are treated simply, using either aluminium framed glazed walls for internal spaces or galvanised steel gates.
The internal surface of the arena is hard wearing but varied in texture to break down the scale of the space.