Edinburgh Old Town

By Dr Lou Rosenburg

The historical development of area regeneration in Edinburgh's Old Town is the focus of an ongoing research project, which has been undertaken in collaboration with Jim Johnson ARIAS, former Director of the Edinburgh Old Town Committee for Conservation and Renewal (now incorporated within Edinburgh World Heritage) and a member of the teaching staff in Architecture at Strathclyde University. Different skills and insights are brought to the subject at hand, with the principal aim of producing an inter-disciplinary study that places the key architectural themes in a wider social and political context.

This research has focused primarily upon the period from 1880 to 1940, which saw an important shift away from Continental-style "street improvement" of the 1860s towards a more incremental approach pioneered by Patrick Geddes in the 1880s. Geddes called this method "conservative surgery", a term which was borrowed from the field of medicine. Through the efforts of Geddes and various civic bodies, the conservative surgery approach was embraced by the municipality in the sanitary improvements of the 1890s along the Royal Mile. It was eventually extended by the local authority after WW1 in the Cowgate, Grassmarket, Canongate and St. Leonard's areas. The work of the 1920s and 1930s involved distinctive series of infill council housing developments designed by the City Architect E. J. MacRae.

In piercing together the Old Town renewal story, the researchers have drawn heavily upon original sources held in the Edinburgh City Archives and the Edinburgh Room of the City Library on George IV Bridge. This investigation's findings have yielded a number of fresh insights into the events of this period. To date, the literature on sanitary reform in Edinburgh has not taking note of either the conscious shift towards gradual renewal in the Old Town or the role of Geddes and various civil bodies in bringing about this transition. Moreover the biographies of Geddes have paid scant attention to his collaborations with the municipality and have not adequately considered whether his renewal work of the 1880s and 1890s had an impact upon the pattern of regeneration over the long term.

Primary theme of this research:
Architecture, Art & History

Other themes this research relates to:
Landscape, Urban Design & Planning

Institutions this research is part of:

Themes this research is part of: