Celebrating the re-opening of ECA’s Main Building at Lauriston Place after the successful completion of a £25m renovation project.

On the 31st of January 2019 the ECA community – students, staff and alumni – came together to celebrate the official re-opening of ECA’s historic Grade A-listed Main Building after the successful completion of a £25 million refurbishment project.

Over the duration of the project, the decants have involved moving around 400 students twice.

Securing the building for future generations

The central aim of the project was to make the building more accessible and fully compliant with all fire, health and safety and environmental regulations, and thereby ensure it is fit for purpose for our students and staff.

ECA Acting Principal Stuart Bennett said: “We are delighted with the results of the work that has been carried out to restore Edinburgh College of Art’s Main Building. I want to thank everyone involved. To sensitively maintain the patina and character that has built up since the building was opened in 1909 while upgrading and creating new spaces is a wonderful achievement. The work has secured the historic heart of ECA for future generations of students and staff.”

Highlights of the renovation project
Edinburgh College of Art

The project has involved the sympathetic restoration of the Sculpture Court, the main entrance stairway, the painting studios, and the creation of a new multi-purpose event space in the West Court.

Work to the interior of the building included upgrading the existing lift system, installing sensor control lighting, power and data points and a new heating and ventilation system. Repairs to the building’s external walls, windows and roof were also part of the overall renovation work and solar panels were mounted on the roof.

Every effort was made to sensitively restore the building’s fabric. To maintain the roof’s appearance, the original slates were re-used on the sections that are visible from the ground. Thirty-five tonnes of new slate was bought for the internal roofs.

The West Court can be used as a lecture theatre or as an events venue
Image: Paul Zanre
The West Court can be used as a lecture theatre or as an events venue
The refurbishment included the installation of double glazing and new lights
Image: Paul Zanre
The refurbishment included the installation of double glazing and new lights

In the same vein, the original 1909 leaded glass is still in place in the semi-circular windows on the main staircase. This is the only glass in the building that wasn’t changed during the refurbishment.

Discoveries of all kinds

The construction team also made a number of intriguing, and possibly supernatural, discoveries during the course of the work.

  • Graffiti going back to 1907 was found when the builders stripped the roof off the Sculpture Court.
  • A dumb waiter system was uncovered that went down to the old kitchens (where the photography department is now) and brought hot meals up to the upper floors.
  • The original winding gear for the chandelier on the main staircase is still in working order and was used to lower and re-raise the now refurbished chandelier.
  • A ‘forgotten’ cast was rediscovered on the balcony overlooking the Sculpture Court and there are two boxed-in fireplaces in the basement.
  • Signatures of roofing fitters dating to 1912 were discovered at the top of the spiral staircase going up to the roof from the switchroom.
  • When the power was shut down to allow a team of electricians to replace the main electricity panels, the electricians worked through the night by torchlight in the empty building. They were convinced that the building was haunted when they heard strange noises from the upper floors like tables being dragged across the floor. When they checked, there was no one there…

Our estates vision is to bring all of our subject areas together at Lauriston Place. This will take time to realise and meanwhile work continues to improve our campus locations across the city.

The ECA Main Building was official re-opened at an event attended by University Principal Professor Peter Mathieson. Around 300 guests enjoyed music in the Sculpture Court and the unveiling of our first ECA timeline. The timeline will be made available online later this year.