Scotland: Day 1

written by:
May 10, 2010

Hello from Scotland! I've had the rather good fortune to be invited for a bit of a design tour in Scotland, and I am reporting back on my first day and a half in Edinburgh. I got in midday yesterday and immediately set out for a ramble. Before I made it back to the Hotel Missoni (high design just a block off High Street!) I'd wandered several miles, through several neighborhoods, and headlong through several Scotch whiskies (Oban 14 and Bunnahabhain), pints of Dragontail Ale, a mean fish and chips and one poker tournament. I lost that tournament the moment I sat down. Today I took off with Frank Scott of Blue Badge Guides to get a good sense of the place architecturally. In the process I saw a castle where Mary Queen of Scots spent one of her last days, restaurants made from what used to be whisky storage, and Zaha Hadid's first completed building in the UK. Check out the slideshow for a glimpse of what I've seen.

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  The famed Edinburgh Castle is in the middle of town at the head of the Royal Mile. Here it is viewed from Castle Street from the north. It's on a massive mound that has served as such a perfect natural high ground that the castle has never been taken by force. The earliest remnants of it date it back to the 11th century.
    The famed Edinburgh Castle is in the middle of town at the head of the Royal Mile. Here it is viewed from Castle Street from the north. It's on a massive mound that has served as such a perfect natural high ground that the castle has never been taken by force. The earliest remnants of it date it back to the 11th century.
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  There really aren't that many modern buildings in Edinburgh, but I was rather taken with the West Gate of the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh by Edward Cullinan Architects. The slate rectangle with the glass cutout felt very much in keeping with the Georgian and Victorian city.
    There really aren't that many modern buildings in Edinburgh, but I was rather taken with the West Gate of the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh by Edward Cullinan Architects. The slate rectangle with the glass cutout felt very much in keeping with the Georgian and Victorian city.
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  Here's the modern extension of the National Museum of Scotland by architects Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth. Prince Charles hates it.
    Here's the modern extension of the National Museum of Scotland by architects Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth. Prince Charles hates it.
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  This is a view of the old part of the Royal Museum, which has now merged with its addition into the National Museum of Scotland, and you can see how dirty the facade is. Many buildings in Edinburgh from the Georgian era are made of sandstone, which has blackened over the centuries from coal dust and burnt fossil fuels. Amazingly, the oily deposits actually help preserve the sandstone. Buildings that have been scrubbed clean are apparently far more likely to suffer from rot and ruin some twenty years down the line.
    This is a view of the old part of the Royal Museum, which has now merged with its addition into the National Museum of Scotland, and you can see how dirty the facade is. Many buildings in Edinburgh from the Georgian era are made of sandstone, which has blackened over the centuries from coal dust and burnt fossil fuels. Amazingly, the oily deposits actually help preserve the sandstone. Buildings that have been scrubbed clean are apparently far more likely to suffer from rot and ruin some twenty years down the line.
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  On my walk last night I happened on this old-time rally car kitted out with a rack of picnic gear and skis. I couldn't resist photographing it. It was just round the corner from St. Vincent pub where I spent much of the evening.
    On my walk last night I happened on this old-time rally car kitted out with a rack of picnic gear and skis. I couldn't resist photographing it. It was just round the corner from St. Vincent pub where I spent much of the evening.
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  Here's a little strip in the Leith neighborhood called the Commercial Quay. In the last dozen years or so what was once a storage spot for whisky casks has been converted into a road of cafes. A nice little glass build-out with a uniformly green metal structure adds a nice, human-scaled quality to the restaurants and integrates a bit of modern design into a old building.
    Here's a little strip in the Leith neighborhood called the Commercial Quay. In the last dozen years or so what was once a storage spot for whisky casks has been converted into a road of cafes. A nice little glass build-out with a uniformly green metal structure adds a nice, human-scaled quality to the restaurants and integrates a bit of modern design into a old building.
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  Head down High Street (the Royal Mile) and you'll see St. Giles Cathedral, which is spectacular. The blackened facade only adds to the dark glamor of the place. Inside I happened upon a choir rehearsing and the acoustics were incredible.
    Head down High Street (the Royal Mile) and you'll see St. Giles Cathedral, which is spectacular. The blackened facade only adds to the dark glamor of the place. Inside I happened upon a choir rehearsing and the acoustics were incredible.
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  The city center abounds with statues of famous citizens of Scotland. Though I've not yet come across Stevenson, Doyle, or Rowling, I was taken with this rather grand representation of the philosopher David Hume. Overly grand for Hume's own views, if you ask me. But the long-dead rarely have any say over their comemmoration.
    The city center abounds with statues of famous citizens of Scotland. Though I've not yet come across Stevenson, Doyle, or Rowling, I was taken with this rather grand representation of the philosopher David Hume. Overly grand for Hume's own views, if you ask me. But the long-dead rarely have any say over their comemmoration.
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  Another statue I adored was this of Scotland's greatest economist: Adam Smith. Just behind is St. Giles Cathedral.
    Another statue I adored was this of Scotland's greatest economist: Adam Smith. Just behind is St. Giles Cathedral.
  • 
  I happened across this building and fell in love with the angled panels of the facade and the sculptures on them. As my eye moved from one to the next my heart sunk when I got to the last one: that familiar green circle of Starbucks. Hell of a nice coffee shop, I must say.
    I happened across this building and fell in love with the angled panels of the facade and the sculptures on them. As my eye moved from one to the next my heart sunk when I got to the last one: that familiar green circle of Starbucks. Hell of a nice coffee shop, I must say.
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  Here's a view of Craigmillar Castle, outside of town. Mary Queen of Scots spent one of her last nights here. The castle was built in the early 15th century.
    Here's a view of Craigmillar Castle, outside of town. Mary Queen of Scots spent one of her last nights here. The castle was built in the early 15th century.
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  The entrance into the castle put you right between these two low trees. It was rather an eerie introduction to the place, giving it quite a moody quality that I loved.
    The entrance into the castle put you right between these two low trees. It was rather an eerie introduction to the place, giving it quite a moody quality that I loved.
  • 
  If all the buildings haven't been enough proof that I'm wandering round Edinburgh, I thought I'd take a picture of the haggis and neeps I had for lunch today. The haggis was quite good, despite all the jokes, and I rather liked the brown whisky sauce and oat crackers that came with it. Salty stuff, but damned tasty. I expect I'll have it again.
    If all the buildings haven't been enough proof that I'm wandering round Edinburgh, I thought I'd take a picture of the haggis and neeps I had for lunch today. The haggis was quite good, despite all the jokes, and I rather liked the brown whisky sauce and oat crackers that came with it. Salty stuff, but damned tasty. I expect I'll have it again.
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  Though New Town in Edinburgh is primarily Victorian, a couple modern buildings have snuck in. This Brutalist structure was vacant when I walked past it on St. Andrew's Square. In the windows were massive quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson and GK Chesterton about how splendid Edinburgh is. Loud and proud on the facade of a vacant building. Very convincing.
    Though New Town in Edinburgh is primarily Victorian, a couple modern buildings have snuck in. This Brutalist structure was vacant when I walked past it on St. Andrew's Square. In the windows were massive quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson and GK Chesterton about how splendid Edinburgh is. Loud and proud on the facade of a vacant building. Very convincing.
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  Another spot where you'll come across the occasional modern structure is at the University of Edinburgh. Here's Dugald Stewart Hall next to a decidedly more traditional structure.
    Another spot where you'll come across the occasional modern structure is at the University of Edinburgh. Here's Dugald Stewart Hall next to a decidedly more traditional structure.
  • 
  To the left you'll see one of the private parks that abounds in Edinburgh. As part of the city plan, there are all sorts of small neighborhood parks that are used and paid for my the residents who live on it. This shot also conveys how hilly the city is.
    To the left you'll see one of the private parks that abounds in Edinburgh. As part of the city plan, there are all sorts of small neighborhood parks that are used and paid for my the residents who live on it. This shot also conveys how hilly the city is.
  • 
  Toward the end of the day Frank and I drove out to the town of Kirkcaldy to visit this Maggie's Center designed by Zaha Hadid. It was her first completed building in the UK and opened in 2006. Look for another post down the line devoted to this structure, which I liked very much.
    Toward the end of the day Frank and I drove out to the town of Kirkcaldy to visit this Maggie's Center designed by Zaha Hadid. It was her first completed building in the UK and opened in 2006. Look for another post down the line devoted to this structure, which I liked very much.

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