We’re proud of Princes Street Gardens past, but now it’s time to design for the future

Councillor Donald Wilson, Convener of Culture and Communities writes in today's Scotsman about the future of West Princes Street Gardens.

Sitting at the heart of our capital city, between the Old and New Towns and under the iconic Edinburgh Castle, West Princes Street Gardens are a central and much-loved part of life in the city. 

The Gardens are one of the most cherished public green spaces in Scotland, loved by locals and visitors alike. However, over the past few 
decades, due to increasing budget pressures, the money available to invest in the facilities has decreased and as a result parts of the Gardens aren’t as high quality as we all want them to be.

Across the centuries, West Princes Street Gardens has been the man-made Nor’ Loch, a private park and now a public garden with a fountain, theatre, the fabulous floral clock and important monuments. We are very proud of its past but it’s now time to embrace and celebrate its future with some new designs and genuinely world class amenities.

I am delighted to be involved in what is the next chapter in the gardens evolution – the brand-new project identity for the capital campaign to reimagine our gardens: The Quaich Project.

 

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The Quaich Project is a partnership between the City of Edinburgh Council and the Ross Development Trust working together to deliver that next chapter in one of Edinburgh’s most famous locations – reimagining the gardens to take it back to its original purpose, as a space for all to enjoy, all year round. We want to create internationally recognised public gardens and a new world-class performance venue that is home to a range of diverse cultural and community activities.

By collaborating with experts from the fields of architectural design and restoration, and by bringing together both philanthropic individuals and public-sector organisations, we are well equipped to handle the transformation of this jewel in Edinburgh’s crown. Ultimately creating a space that every resident and visitor can enjoy.

The project takes its name from the traditional Highland ‘sharing cup’ – and that feels perfect for this project. Not only does the physical landscape that forms West Princes Street Gardens closely mirror the bowl of a typical quaich it also matches our vision for the project – to bring people together in new ways and old, to celebrate one of Scotland’s finest green spaces, and Edinburgh’s status as one of the world’s most beautiful, vibrant and welcoming capitals, generating new connections both locally and internationally. Quaichs are often treasured, personal items and something that is proudly gifted from one generation to the next.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the return of more community use and activities that can be enjoyed by all throughout the year. I’m confident that this project and the winning design will provide the opportunity for everyone to spend more time and have more fun in the gardens. Research shows that even 20 minutes spent in a park can makes you happier, and how much happier we can all be from spending time in this enchanting place. A place for peaceful contemplation, a place to sit and read, meet friends or take part in yoga classes or experience Diwali and of course our world-famous festival fireworks.

In 2017, an international design competition saw some of the world’s leading architects from 22 different countries submit their concepts to reimagine the gardens. From seven shortlisted designs, the concept from collaborating architectural firm wHY and Edinburgh-based design studio GRAS was unanimously selected. Indeed, that view was reaffirmed by a poll run by the Edinburgh Evening News. The public and the experts united in agreeing which was the best proposal for such a special place. And as confirmed at our Transport and Environment Committee last autumn, the gardens will remain under the management and operation of the Council.

As well as the design competition, the Council has worked closely with the Ross Development Trust to upgrade the Gardener’s Cottage and restore the magnificent Ross Fountain, a project that clearly demonstrates the potential of the partnership that we’ve formed to renew the gardens. It is time for The Quaich Project to take the next step and to realise the promise of the winning design and ensure enjoyment for generations to come.

We all know the gardens are much treasured by residents and visitors. It is vital that we secure much needed investment for the transformation of the gardens into a genuine ‘space for all in the heart of the city’.

I am confident that through The Quaich Project we will enhance the experience of users while ensuring the gardens remain a beautiful and (much more) accessible and treasured public space.

The Quaich Project is in its early days, but huge amounts of work have already been done to carefully and thoroughly plan this transformation. Public consultation is an essential component of the plans and the team will be engaging in even more extensive consultation from here on. So, I would urge you to keep a look out for The Quaich Project and the opportunities for you to engage with the project over the coming months to help shape the transformation and improvements of the gardens.

Keep up to date with news and events at and find out more about what will soon be an even better space for community, nature, reflection, celebration and for us all in the heart of Edinburgh.

 

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