Listed derelict hospital will be transformed into hub connecting academia and industry

Bennetts Associates has been picked to restore a derelict grade A Scottish hospital into a new facility for Edinburgh University.

The practice is understood to have beaten a strong shortlist of seven to land the job.

The 1879 Surgical Hospital was designed by David Bryce in the Scots baronial style and was part of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, until that moved to a new site in the south of the city in 2003. Since then the building has lain empty, with ceilings collapsing and pigeons moving in.

The university bought it this month for an undisclosed sum. It plans to use the building to bring together different strands of its arts, humanities, sciences and social science programmes.

Rab Bennetts, founding director of Bennetts Associates, described the acquisition as “inspired” because it would create a link between two parts of the university’s city centre campus – the art college and the humanities and medical buildings.

“This building will be right in the middle. It’s a really critical bit of real estate,” he said. “It’s an incredibly ambitious and very exciting project.”

Design work is unlikely to start before late January since exhaustive surveys of the fabric must be completed first. These include cloud surveys so the whole project can be done using BIM from the start.

The rest of the Royal Infirmary site is being redeveloped into the 8ha Quartermile housing and retail scheme which was masterplanned by Foster & Partners. Edinburgh practices Richard Murphy Architects and Comprehensive Design Architects are working on buildings.

The Surgical Hospital has historical links with the university which previously owned it for a period since generations of students from Edinburgh’s medical school trained at the Royal Infirmary before its move.

Professor Timothy O’Shea, the university’s principal, said: “Given our long relationship, it is fitting that this beautiful building is to become a permanent part of the university.

“It will enable us to expand our outstanding teaching facilities and help us consolidate our position as a world-class university that is accessible to the wider community.”

It is Bennetts Associates’ third major project for the university, following the Doolan Prize-winning Potterrow development and the Data Technology Institute which is due to start on site soon. The practice has also completed a number of feasibility studies for the university’s suburban campus at King’s Buildings.

Rab Bennetts said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Edinburgh University once again, helping them to achieve their very ambitious estates strategy. Denise and I studied at the nearby Edinburgh College of Art, so we know the site very well and look forward to injecting new life into Lauriston Place once more.

“Reinterpreting an old hospital with separate wards so that it can provide a dynamic well-connected business environment is an immensely exciting prospect.”