Capital Composition With 2016 marking the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design in Scotland, and Edinburgh's built heritage held in world renown, we uncover some of the capital's most iconic architecture

Scotland is a nation of pioneers. For centuries it has been pushing boundaries in fields as far ranging as science and technology to religion and art, and every discipline in between.

Such change has left its mark on our built heritage. In 2016, the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, a government initiative led by VisitScotland, will showcase the country's greatest visual assets. This year-long programme follows on from the success and momentum of past themed years, such as the 2015 Year of Food and Drink and Homecoming Scotland 2014.

“The Year is going to give tourism an opportunity to promote both Scotland's traditional and contemporary aspects, to show our cultural heritage alongside our cutting-edge design to the world,” explains Chelsea Charles, Special Projects Communications Manager at VisitScotland. “We will be looking at our innovative past, present and future, and flying the flag in terms of how Scotland as a nation continues to inspire audiences across the globe.”

And nowhere is this inspiration more evident than here in Edinburgh. Its complex fabric tells a story of change and collision; of the Age of Enlightenment meeting a Medieval powerhouse; of a city truly international in influence and yet essentially Scottish at heart.

“Of course, the Year is focused on Scotland as a whole, but for us Edinburgh is absolutely special,” says Chelsea. “Quite often visitors come for the Castle but leave inspired by both the city's historical and contemporary architecture. It's a city renowned for its architecture, both in its built heritage as well as its public spaces and it's that contrast which gives the whole city an edge.”

“We will be looking at our innovative past, present and future, and flying the flag in terms of how Scotland as a nation continues to inspire audiences across the globe”

The themed Year was announced to the tourism industry at the EICC, a venue that also plays an important part in Edinburgh's architectural and design landscape. “It tells a great story in architecture,” says Chelsea. ”The innovation around the moving floor which offers flexibility for all kinds of events and the whole design aspect of its expansion makes the EICC a much more diverse product and it's opening up massive opportunities for business in Edinburgh.”

With the help of prominent Scottish architect and Chair of Architecture and Design Scotland, Karen Anderson, we've uncovered five other examples of iconic buidlings that are open to the public and regularly hold events; all of which work within Edinburgh's fabric, opening up the city's past but also accommodating the present.

One: The Balmoral

Formerly known as the North British Hotel, this iconic landmark on Edinburgh's skyline, with its magnificent 190-foot clock tower, was opened in 1902 by the North British Railway Company. It was designed by William Hamilton Beattie, one of Edinburgh's foremost architects of the time (responsible for the design of Jenner's further down Princes Street). An example of true Edwardian grandeur, it was once one of the greatest railway hotels in Europe. “All of the railways of the time were vying to have hotels adjacent to their stations,” says Karen. “That made it the place to visit.”

Subsequent to several years of decline, the North British Hotel became part of the Rocco Forte Collection in 1997, was renamed The Balmoral (‘majestic dwelling’ in Gaelic) and has since reclaimed its place at the heart of Edinburgh as one of the capital's five-star hotels. “In tandem with other railway hotels built in the UK and elsewhere, it's about being a state-of-the-art tourist destination,” says Karen. The Balmoral is a tourist gem fit for a modern city, but it hasn't forgotten its historic past; the hotel's clock even still runs three minutes fast, a long-standing tradition ensuring that guests aren't late for their trains.

Two: The Royal Botanic Gardens
Photo: Glynniqua / Flickr

Beginning life as a modest patch of land in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens have played a major role in the city's development since their establishment in 1670, both as a place for the scientific study of plants and trees as well as a major tourist attraction and event space. Now based in the city's suburb of Inverleith and covering 70 acres, they contain some of the most spectacular examples of Victorian garden architecture. The palm houses combine modern glass technology with richly decorated classical stonework, giving the gardens world renown. Designed by Scottish architect Robert Matheson, The Temperate Palm House, with its iconic domed roof, remains the tallest of its kind in Britain.

Later developments included new glasshouses in the 1960s and in 2010 an award-winning visitor centre, the John Hope Gateway, was opened, offering a contemporary facility for corporate events, weddings, dining and education. “It's an emblem of the gardens continuing to patronise good architecture and good design,” says Karen. “They're using architecture as a means not just of accommodating their business needs, but of attracting more visitors to enjoy and support the gardens.”

Three: Mansfield Traquair

Given the worthy epithet ‘Edinburgh's Sistine Chapel’, Mansfield Traquair exists as one of Edinburgh's most elaborate and attractive buildings. It was designed by renowned Edinburgh architect Robert Rowand Anderson, who was famed for being able to turn his hand to any architectural style. For Mansfield Traquair, he turned to neo-Romanesque, creating a Catholic Apostolic church allegedly in anticipation of Christ's Second Coming. It functioned as such for almost 100 years, with the magnificent religious murals, painted by Phoebe Anna Traquair, still adorning the interior walls to this day.

Mansfield Traquair is now used as an acclaimed events space. “It's the conjunction of art and architecture which is so fundamentally unique there,” says Karen. “It's not just any old church – it's an example of how art and architecture make a space. People have a great opportunity to be in a space, to enjoy a space, and to enjoy the art in that space, and that says a lot about the quality of the events that may happen in it.”

Four: The Usher Hall
Photo: Eoin Carey

A world-class concert hall which boasts enviable acoustics, Edinburgh's Usher Hall has occupied a unique space in the city's West End since 1914. Made possible by a generous donation from Edinburgh-based whisky distiller and the father of whisky blending, Andrew Usher, the building was designed by Stockdale Harrison & Sons and Howard H. Thomson. Its iconic round structure was made possible by the development of reinforced concrete, and the Hall's ornamental style was dictated by the Beaux-Arts architectural style, a reaction to Victorian Gothic. “These were interesting days for architecture,” explains Karen. “The Arts and Crafts movement had defined architecture as being not so much about applying décor but about honesty, spaces and craftsmanship. The Usher Hall is obviously a space that everyone enjoyed.”

And that's certainly still true today. For more than a century the Hall's auditorium has hosted orchestras, performers and visitors from around the world. Events aren't limited to the interior though: earlier this year, to open the Edinburgh International Festival, a mesmerising light show projected onto the building's exterior accompanied John Adam's Harmonium. “The Usher Hall forms a really interesting outdoor space,” says Karen. “It's a break in the city, a special space for performance and it allows for a different definition of the outside space around it.”

Five: Dundas Castle

The Dundas Clan came to live in what was Linlithgowshire in the 12th century, gradually acquiring power and land before constructing their seat, the ‘Auld Keep’, in the 15th century. This stunning Castle was redeveloped in 1818 by famed architect William Burn into Dundas Castle and has remained standing on the site since. An imposing structure with unobstructed views over the Firth of Forth, Dundas Castle is hailed as one of Scotland's most beautiful and historic castles. “Burn was an immensely influential architect,” says Karen. “Working with Sir Walter Scott, he was very much a part of the whole Scottish Romantic movement. He is credited with developing the design of the Victorian Scottish country house, so much a part of the Lothian countryside.”

The Scottish Romantic movement's influence upon Scottish tourism was second to none and that's true of Dundas Castle. During WWII, it was used as a station for troops guarding the Forth Road Bridge and the building has since been converted into a five-star venue, especially popular for corporate events and weddings. In 2016 the original ‘Auld Keep’ will celebrate its 600th year.

Your chance to win:

Enter our competition to win a stay for two at Dundas Castle’s Boathouse

Enter today