St Andrew Square | Edinburgh

St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
Category: The Great Place Award 2011
Date of Visit: 2010

St. Andrew Square is very well managed and extremely popular. It integrates with the surrounding streetscape providing easy access to a range of facilities and is safe and welcoming. There are limitations imposed on opening hours and types of events that can be held in the square, but this sits comfortably with the aim for the square to be a quiet haven and does not restrict use.

The St. Andrew Square project effectively rehabilitates an urban green space which had, despite its prominent location, over preceding generations and as a result of evolving ownership patterns, proved of meagre value as a park, serving merely as a landscaped decorative element to George Street. The space neatly twists the concept of the Edinburgh New Town Garden (a traditionally exclusive arrangement where house or building owners are ‘key holders’ to the private space) as it combines the traditional amenities of the destination urban park – the grass, the trees, the pond, the café – with a convenient public route along practical desire lines.

Edinburgh New Town is a restrained environment – quiet, functional elegance over showy, frivolous spectacle – and in this respect the project displays a clear understanding of its context. The square forms the eastern anchor at the eastern end of George Street and projects local distinctiveness by employing simple geometric forms and drawing upon a retrained palette of materials. The planners and designers have combined characteristic Edinburgh elements and materials such as granite sets and paving, black painted railings, with more contemporary materials, features and details, such as stainless steel inlays, chunky granite seating blocks, inlaid lighting. Together these create an exceptionally well conceived and executed space which is evidently well used and appreciated year round.

St. Andrew Square has been designed as a quiet contemplative space with covenants which restrict the use of certain activities. It is closed from 8pm but opens early morning for the breakfast trade, attracting people of all ages throughout the day. The surrounding retail and commercial uses which predominantly occupy the surrounding buildings forming the square result in low passive surveillance during the evenings.

St. Andrew Square is a successful vibrant space with a successful Café that also supports the maintenance of the square. The design on a simple axis between Princes Street and Multrees Walk creates a strong link between two retail attractors, strengthening the offer of both. The project contributes to sustainability in terms of adaptation and reuse of a previously underused historic space. It contributes to social cohesion by providing a public meeting space. Importantly, the project is financially sustainable, as the income from the lease of the new café in the gardens finances maintenance of the gardens.

The design of the square supports and capitalises on both the existing diverse range of uses nearby and the established movement patterns in the surrounding area.

As an exemplar for place-based learning, the nomination may be assessed on two levels. Firstly the process: the square is the first of its kind in Edinburgh in that a private square with access limited to the surrounding keyholders has been transformed into a public park, involving challenging and lengthy negotiations. It could be used as a model for others in similar situations as the surrounding properties have benefitted from increased trade and raised property values. Secondly the product: the design and function work well overall, with some issues relating to maintenance and servicing. The inclusion of the cafe which provides a valuable source of revenue, is not a new concept, but works well here and has surpassed predicted revenue. The Garden has already been used for a number of major events with learning potential in their own right. These include Poetry in St. Andrew Square and Edinburgh International Science Festival events.