International collaboration led by US-based design practice wHY wins competition to revitalise nationally-important site in Edinburgh

The Ross Development Trust together with the City of Edinburgh Council today announced the winner of the Ross Pavilion International Design Competition to be the team led by US-based design practice wHY.

The five-month search for an outstanding team for the £25m Ross Pavilion and West Princes Street Gardens project attracted first-stage submissions from 125 teams (made up of 400 firms) from 22 different countries.

At the competition’s second stage, shortlisted teams produced concept designs for a new landmark Pavilion; a visitor centre with café; and improvements to the surrounding Gardens. The new Pavilion will provide a flexible platform for the imaginative arts and cultural programming that Edinburgh excels in, and allow visitors and residents to engage with a variety of events all year round.

The competition jury met on 11 July to interview the seven teams shortlisted for this initiative, and unanimously selected wHY as the winner. Their team included Edinburgh-based design studio GRAS, Groves-Raines Architects, Arup, Studio Yann Kersalé, O Street, Stuco, Creative Concern, Noel Kingsbury, Atelier Ten and Lawrence Barth. Full details of the jury and winning team can be found in the Notes below.

The competition winners proposed an organic landscape-focused scheme that respects the historic setting but also animates the Gardens through the introduction of a new undulating promenade, transformed access from Princes Street, sculptural seating and dynamic open views.

Inspired by the Gardens’ geology and history – from the volcanic forces to the man-made energy of the Victorian pleasure garden – the design subtly positions the new visitor centre and the ‘butterfly’ Pavilion into the folds of the landscape, enabling the Castle to remain the main visual event. The scheme increases the amount of green space relative to hard surfaces within the Gardens and is, in the team’s words, ‘human scale with moments of drama… activating four layers of meaning within the Gardens: botanical, civic, commemorative and cultural.’

The jury praised the team’s concept design as ‘a beautiful and intensely appealing proposal that complemented, but did not compete with, the skyline of the City and the Castle.’ They liked the concept of the activated community space with a democratic spirit, potentially creating a new and welcoming focus for the City’s festivals while appreciating that the team’s design balanced this with a strong approach to the smaller, intimate spaces within the wider Gardens.

All the finalists’ schemes went on show to the public at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh from 21 June until 30 July 2017 and remain available to view online through the websites of the competition and the Ross Development Trust. The competition was organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants.

Norman Springford, Competition Jury Chair, was delighted with the whole process. He said:

“As is always the case with initiatives of this size and stature, the jury had a hard job! We are confident however that we have a winning concept that embodies an imaginative ensemble landscape approach, creating a wonderful stage for our iconic Edinburgh Castle. In addition, the design concept offers a creative energy and a series of unique elements which will all combine to create a new and contemporary landscape.

“We thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the shortlisted teams and understanding each approach. However with wHY, they demonstrated an impressive collaboration which respects and enhances the historical context and backdrop of the Castle and the City, whilst creating new heritage and increasing the green space within the Gardens. All of which were key aspects for us all and respected the importance of the space within a World Heritage Site.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, Edinburgh’s Culture and Communities Convener, said:

“We have seen some of the most influential architects and landscapers join forces to compete to design the new Ross Pavilion. The huge international interest in the competition is testament to Edinburgh’s standing as one of the world’s most beautiful and creative settings for live performance.

“All of the shortlisted teams put forward fantastic ideas but wHY’s Butterfly concept received the jury’s collective support. The chosen design makes the most of the natural surroundings of Princes Street Gardens and focuses on connecting people to the city, the stage and the view of Edinburgh Castle.

“It is hugely exciting to reach this stage of the project. Our thanks go to the Ross Development Trust for their vision and support and our congratulations to wHY on their winning design.”

Andy Neal, Trustee, The Ross Development Trust, was delighted with the jury’s decision. He said:

“It is always a tough job to select a winner when you have such a strong shortlist of entries. The Trust is grateful to the jury for their time and consideration in reaching a decision and selecting a winning design concept.

“We are looking forward to working with wHY to develop our vision for West Princes Street Gardens. Over the next few months, we will work with the design team and people of Edinburgh to develop the brief for the Gardens. It’s an exciting time for the City.”

Malcolm Reading, Competition Director, said:

“wHY is a creative force that has the rare skill of being able to produce design that is exciting yet also sensitive and humane – it is a delight to see them win so exuberantly.

“Their proposal is a landscape scheme that is really more like an energy-field: using animation and drama as well as open vistas, they transform the Gardens and create an experience that is much freer and organic. As is their style, they conscientiously sampled local opinion, and have come up with a design proposal that is engaging and refreshing.

“We would like to thank all the finalists for their hard work and enthusiasm – we were in no doubt over their connection to this wonderful project, and they produced diverse and well-reasoned concept designs.”

wHY is a collective of architects, landscape designers, makers and strategic thinkers, established in 2004 and with offices in New York and Los Angeles; the studio’s competition-winning entry was led by Founder and Creative Director Kulapat Yantrasast and Landscape Design Director Mark Thomann.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Yantrasast, who is Thai-born and was educated in Japan, ‘is increasingly sought after in the cultural sphere for his ability to skilfully conjure environments that suit the needs of art’. wHY came to global attention this year with the opening of Los Angeles’ newest museum, the Marciano Art Foundation, which involved a sensitive and restrained redesign of the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple. The practice’s Grand Rapids Art Museum was the first institution of its kind in the world to achieve a LEED Gold rating for environmental performance and sustainability.

A key local partner in the winning collaboration was Edinburgh-based design studio GRAS, known for its exploratory, interdisciplinary approach and an eclectic portfolio of arts, cultural and community-based projects.

Kulapat Yantrasast, Founder and Creative Director of wHY, said:

“wHY is built around an ecology of disciplines, the convergence of ideas, experience, nature and people. The Ross Pavilion and West Princes Street Gardens represent this convergence and this was the perfect ground to further our approach to design. To be selected from so many extraordinary thinkers is an honour. We felt a personal connection to the Gardens and believe our design embodies how important collaboration and people are to making a place remarkable.”

Mark Thomann, wHY’s Landscape Design Director, added:

“This is a special opportunity for a special place, not just for Edinburgh but the world. The new Ross Pavilion and Gardens draw from the rich natural history, heritage and creative spirit of Scotland, embodying a model approach for integrating public architecture and urban space in a top global city. Our team looks forward to realising this vision with the Ross Development Trust and the people of Edinburgh.”

The jury praised all the finalists for their hard work and commitment and awarded a special commendation to the team led by William Matthews Associates and Sou Fujimoto Architects for ‘a memorable and delicate design that opened up unexpected views, particularly those to the Castle’.

The other five teams were led by Adjaye Associates; Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Flanagan Lawrence; Page \ Park Architects, West 8 Landscape Architects and BuroHappold Engineering; and Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter.

The Ross Development Trust is working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council on this initiative. Key project stakeholders include Historic Environment Scotland, the Cockburn Association, the Old Town Community Council and Edinburgh World Heritage.

wHY will now work with the Trust, the Council and other stakeholders, and consult with the public, to take forward the project to revitalise this space, positioned just below Edinburgh Castle and adjoining Princes’ Street. Currently occupied by the Ross Bandstand, and described as a true ‘place for people’, it is both a refuge from daily city life and the focus for exhilarating celebrations, such as Hogmanay and the Edinburgh International Festival’s closing fireworks concert.

The competition was run according to EU procurement guidelines and the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015.

Construction is expected to begin in 2018.