Doors Open

Yesterday was the 2008 Doors Open Day in Edinburgh: each year, for one day only, a variety of buildings open their doors to visitors, free of charge. A large number are places that you’d never normally get the chance to visit.

I really like this project. One of the reasons I love Edinburgh is that it’s a beautiful place, filled with buildings that are interesting for their appearance, their history, or both. The only problem I have is that many of the venues close relatively early. Nonetheless, we managed to get out in time to see three venues.

Whitehouse Lodge

A recently-completed residential house, built on a secluded site of a demolished gardener’s cottage nestled in the woodland grounds of the Astley Ainslie hospital. It’s a fairly green building, using solar panels and ground source heating; the architect (Lorn Macneal, I think) told us that it isn’t connected to the gas network, and uses utility electricity only for lighting.

It certainly seems a building I could be happy living in. I can also imagine using it to host, say, a week-long house party. Not that I’m likely to get the opportunity, given that it apparently sold for £1.9 million.

View of the exterior of Whitehouse Lodge

View out the window from the inside of Whitehouse Lodge, looking down on the patio below

19 Smith’s Place

A Georgian mansion house, originally built for the Leith merchant James Smith. It’s been in continuous use by the same firm since 1816; it was originally the premises of Raimes Clark and Company, before being inherited by Lindsay and Gilmour, and still serves as the company’s head office. From the outside, it’s beautifully proportioned, in the style of Robert and James Adam. The interior is quirky in many respects: rooms are often peculiar shapes, and some are at surprising heights, all to ensure that the exterior’s symmetry is maintained. One particularly astonishing feature is an elliptical spiral staircase forming the central core of the building.

View down the elliptical spiral staircase at the centre of 19 Smith’s Place


This building used to be Infirmary Street Baths, a Victorian municipal swimming pool which was the first to be built in Edinburgh. The baths closed in 1995 — several of my friends who grew up in the city recall going there as children — and the building fell into disrepair. It’s now been refurbished for use by Dovecot Studios, a specialist tapestry studio founded in 1912 as the Edinburgh Tapestry Company. What was formerly the main pool has been converted into a working area with huge looms, overlooked by the old public gallery. I confess I mostly ignored the rest of what was on display in favour of this space.

View of the entire length of the Dovecot studio space, from the public gallery

View of a corner of the Dovecot studio space

The main Dovecot loom

Boxes of yarn, of various colours

Visitors looking at the works on display in the Dovecot public gallery