Modernist Edinburgh Walking Tour

The Wednesday of the RGS-IBG Conference in Edinburgh was our designated ‘Geography of Enthusiasm: Fieldwork and Exploration’ afternoon.  This post is a quick summary of some of the highlights of the tour that Ruth, Hilary and I organised to follow our conference paper session.  I started the day extremely optimistic, the sun was out, people were donning sunglasses and shedding coats.  This was not to last…by the time we were gathering outside the entrance to the Appleton Tower it had begun to rain, rather a lot.  Torrential.

We met up with the guide for our tour, Dr Clive Fenton, of Docomomo Scotland who gave us an introduction to the expansion of the University of Edinburgh around George Square in the 1960s from the shelter of the Appleton Tower concourse.  At one point it was suggested that we might curtail the tour because of the weather.  What followed was a fantastic example of why I love being a geographer: a universal ‘No! It’s only a bit of rain!’  Rain 0 – Enthusiasts 1! So outside we went.

Here are a few of the places we heard about on our modernist tour of George Square:

Bristo Place: Monumentalism at Mcewan Hall

Hugh Robson Building: Unrealised Colonnade on north side of George Square

Terrace/Appleton Tower: The Georgian and The Modern

Appleton Tower – Alan Reiach, Eric Hall & Partners (designed 1963)

University of Edinburgh Library, Basil Spence Partners (1967): a handy place to shelter from the rain and hear about this iconic piece of modernist architecture…architectural enthusiasm in action!

Inside the University Library

Podium Level, South-East Side of George Square: raised walkways and (what used to be) a sunken garden.

Striking Slate: David Hume Tower, Robert Matthew (1962)

The tour finished up with a peek behind the Appleton Tower: why it never had a ‘proper’ entrance

It was great to spend a couple of hours taking in the fascinating history of the visions (both educational and architectural) that have shaped George Square since the period of the large-scale expansion of British universities post-war.  It was even greater to do this in the company of nearly 30 geographers.  The history and legacy of modernism is something that clearly has wide interest, and it was a pleasure to be able to share  and explore these ideas with our resident expert Clive, and other architectural enthusiasts.

Having spent two years working at the University of Edinburgh, a time when I was admittedly, dashing in and out of lecture theatres rather than contemplating my surroundings, it was a pleasure to gain a new insight into the how these buildings came about, and what wider (and often unfinished) plans they were part of.  A vision for a bigger, brighter, modern University of Edinburgh.

Thanks to everyone who came along.  Maybe next time we’ll make it to the Commonwealth Pool!

– Hannah


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One response to “Modernist Edinburgh Walking Tour

  1. Pingback: Enthusiasm at the RGS-IBG 2012, Edinburgh « The Culture of Enthusiasm

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