Boot manufacturer transforms into Edinburgh print-making studio
A derelict industrial building in the Scottish capital has been redeveloped by Page \ Park architects for the newly expanded print-making studio Edinburgh Printmakers. From repurposed materials, exposed structures and considered interventions, the design finds a balance between preservation, adaptation and new ideas – all preparing the institution for a whole new chapter of creativity and production.
As the only surviving structure of the 19th-century Castle Mills industrial complex, the building has a fascinating history that was worth celebrating. It was once the headquarters of the North British Rubber Company (NBRC) – known as the birthplace of the Hunter welly boot, where over three thousand people were employed at its height and mills worked around the clock to supply rubber boots for the army during the First World War.
In an act of respect, the architects used the vast original building as a template from which to build on – carefully extending and creating within it new spaces for two galleries, a shop, café, education space, staff offices, environmentally controlled archives and eight creative industries units – as well as a large print studio that forms the core of the Edinburgh Printmakers activity.
In fact, many parts were left as untouched as possible – the print-making studio takes pride of place in the triple-height former joinery workshop of the NBRC where the original muscular cast iron structure and timber trusses have been exposed, and historic joist pockets and traces of paint have been retained.
Materials found on site were repurposed or redesigned – old glazed bricks discovered in the basement now serve as the café servery counter, and tables have been built of salvaged timber doors. In these details, history comes to life again.
A series of subtle adaptations follow the spirit of the industrial design, yet dramatically improve the building for its new function. The addition of a new central courtyard brings people together at the heart of the design, while a new circulation strategy helps people to navigate, allowing them to explore the whole structure.
Meanwhile some ‘precise interventions’ were also necessary, and symbolic, for the Edinburgh Printmakers’ new chapter – and to mark the start of a new life for the NBRC building. The entrance, for example, needed a bold new design to attract people in, revealing the café and shop to the street.
No public institution is complete these days without a tantalising art commission. Here, Page \ Park worked in collaboration with visual artist Calum Colvin to design the ‘EPscope’ – a synthesis of a periscope and kaleidoscope made up of images of products made by the rubber company that create a collision of patterns across the space. §