Visionary restoration breathes life into much-loved city landmark

Edinburgh Futures Institute has officially opened its doors to the public in the transformed and revitalised Old Royal Infirmary building.

The much-loved city landmark will officially open to the public on Monday 3rd June following an extensive seven-year, multi-million-pound restoration.

Built in 1879, the Old Royal Infirmary housed the city’s main hospital until 2003 and was once described by The Illustrated London News as “the best planned hospital” in Britain.

Now home to the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Futures Institute, the category-A listed building will bring together people finding innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

Full Front Centre Main Entrance – credit Keith Hunter Photography courtesy of Edinburgh Futures Institute and Bennetts Associates

The 20,000 sqm redevelopment is now one of the largest institutes for interdisciplinary learning, research and innovation in Europe.

Through a series of educational programmes, partnerships and research projects, Edinburgh Futures Institute is building on the University’s expertise in interdisciplinary fields including arts and humanities, health, data science and artificial intelligence to address global challenges such as the ethics of AI, social inequality and climate change.

The building, which unites modern design with restored historic architecture, will also bring benefits to the local community. Alongside new access points from Middle Meadow Walk, a new public square has been created along with a café and exhibition and performance spaces.

The building’s signature wide and airy Nightingale Wards have been retained and are now reused as teaching and workspaces.

Collaborative spaces are also available for external organisations and partners, with incubation areas for start-up businesses and labs for innovation and prototyping.

Office Space – credit Keith Hunter Photography courtesy of Edinburgh Futures Institute and Bennetts Associates

Once opened, the Institute will also host a range of events and opportunities for members of the public and University of Edinburgh community.

In August, the Institute will host the Edinburgh International Book Festival and will become a permanent home for this annual event.

The Futures Institute sits within the University’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. It is one of six innovation hubs supported by the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal’s Data-Driven Innovation programme.

Through the University of Edinburgh’s participation in the City Region Deal, the Institute has received £56m in capital funding from the UK Government and more than £2m from the Scottish Government.

The University worked with a project design team led by Atkins Realis, including architects Bennetts Associates and construction partner Balfour Beatty, to restore, extend, and upgrade the building.

EDINBURGH, UK – 2024: Kev Dhaliwal is Professor of Molecular Imaging and Healthcare Technology at the University of Edinburgh and a Consultant Physician in Respiratory Medicine. He was appointed Interim Director for Edinburgh Futures Institute in November 2023. (Photograph: MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY)

Professor Kev Dhaliwal, Interim Director of Edinburgh Future’s Institute, said: “The amazing restoration of the Old Royal Infirmary has created an inspiring place for us all to collaborate. It opens up exciting opportunities to co-locate students, staff and external partners to innovate and address global challenges together.”

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Edinburgh, said: “So many people in Edinburgh have a connection to this historic building and we want to ensure that it fulfils the pledge set in stone above the main entrance, ‘patet omnibus’ – open to all. EFI’s new home will allow us to connect the University community with local and global groups, organisations and industries in new and meaningful ways.”

James Nelmes, Director, Bennetts Associates, said: “This was a complex project, sensitively restoring a 150-year-old city landmark into the University of Edinburgh’s new Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI), an innovative forum for learning, research, and collaboration. We adopted a visionary approach to blend functionalism with the romantic Scottish baronial style, seamlessly integrating modern functionality with the building’s historic charm.

Stairs – credit Keith Hunter Photography courtesy of Edinburgh Futures Institute and Bennetts Associates

“Originally designed for infection control through isolation, the building now facilitates the spread of ideas by integration and collaboration, transforming it into a dynamic environment for a forward-thinking educational institution. By carving out a new identity for the building and significantly enhancing the public realm, we have re-established its presence. We’re very proud of what has been achieved, merging the past with the future to create a new landmark for Edinburgh.”

Hector MacAulay MBE, Managing Director of Balfour Beatty’s regional business in Scotland said: “We are proud to have played a key role in the transformation of the Old Royal Infirmary into the Edinburgh Futures Institute. This complex restoration project has not only preserved a significant piece of Edinburgh’s architectural heritage but also exemplifies sustainable redevelopment at its best. By repurposing and modernising this historic structure, it will continue to serve and inspire students at the University of Edinburgh for generations to come.”

Dawson Stelfox MBE, Consultant Conservation Architect at Consarc, the conservation architects on the building project, said: “The building was in a perilous state when the University took it on and bringing it back to life required a carefully considered balance between meticulous conservation and skilful interventions to make it fit for its new purpose and resilient to the changing climate, whilst preserving its great architectural character and integrity”

Further information about Edinburgh Futures Institute can be found via:

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