City of Literature Trust selects architect-led design team to create Edinburgh Literature House

Ali Bowden
Director, Edinburgh
City of Literature Trust

18 December 2020

Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust has selected Stirling Prize winning architectural firm Witherford Watson Mann to lead the next phase of development at the Literature House in Edinburgh.

They will be working in partnership with Groves-Raines Architects Studios, who have an outstanding record in conservation, restoration and reuse of historic buildings in Scotland, and with Edinburgh-based Studio MB, a multi-award winning interpretive design agency who work internationally.

The team will join forces to create a Literature House for Scotland at John Knox House and the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. It will create a home for Edinburgh’s literary story, be a catalyst to develop the wider area and through their programming, offer an inclusive year-round welcome to everyone in the city.

The team will start work on the project in January with the intention of completing the feasibility study by the end of March 2021, and this will be followed by a phase of wider community consultation.

This comes following a competitive public procurement process led by RIAS Consultancy.

Ruth Plowden, Chair of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, said:

“In a strong field, this team was the unanimous choice of our panel both because of the excellence of their individual expertise and their shared vision for our ambitious project. With them on board we can take our first confident steps towards creating a Literature House for Scotland in the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature.”

William Mann, Director, Witherford Watson Mann, said:

“We are really looking forward to working with the City of Literature Trust on the Literature House project. We have put together what we feel is a very strong team, collaborating with Edinburgh-based creative and specialist practices. We share a lot of values with Groves-Raines Architects: we both have an affinity for historic fabric, we focus on progressive and sustainable design solutions, and we are committed to the regeneration of local communities."

Cllr Amy McNeese-Mechan, Culture and Communities Vice Convener, said:

“We welcome the appointment of Witherford Watson Mann to lead the next step in this ambitious project to create a Literature House for Scotland - a place to discover Edinburgh’s literary heritage and contemporary creativity, and learn more about our capital’s incredible storytellers, and writers. I look forward to seeing the project begin and the benefits it will bring for literature and a literary quarter in the city.”

Dr Donald Smith Chief Executive of TRACS said:

“As the lead programme partner at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, TRACS is delighted to support the Literature House vision for John Knox House. It will bring new profile to the area as a showcase for Scotland's culture, and as a hub for creatives and learners alike, locally, nationally and internationally.” The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust gratefully acknowledges the support of the City of Edinburgh Council, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Edinburgh World Heritage.

The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust gratefully acknowledges the support of the City of Edinburgh Council, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Edinburgh World Heritage.

Witherford Watson Mann Architects

A London-based practice established over twenty years ago, Witherford Watson Mann Architects design to make the most of what is already there. They distil the complexities of contemporary collectives, of urban sites and public processes into durable, economical solutions that remain open to future change. In 2013 they won the RIBA Stirling Prize for their work at Astley Castle and in 2019 won the People’s Vote for the Prize for their work at Nevill Holt Opera. The prize recognises those who have made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year. They are currently designing for higher education, for small businesses, and for older people.

Groves-Raines Architects Studios

Based in Edinburgh, Groves-Raines Architects Studios are dedicated to the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings. Established in 1972, the practice has been at the forefront of conservation in Scotland and Ireland for over 40 years, with a broad portfolio of exceptional, award-winning projects including Lamb’s House, Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Kyle House. The team’s specialist skills in conservation planning and affinity for historic fabric ensure that their interventions are based on a deep understanding that allows the seamless integration of the old and the new.

Studio MB

Founded in Edinburgh in 2004, Studio MB is a multi-award winning exhibition and interpretative design agency. They design and deliver immersive visitor experiences and stand out exhibitions for museums, heritage attractions and leading global brands the length of the UK, as well as internationally in the Middle East and India.

The Tender Process

RIAS Consultancy (The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) facilitated the tender process for The Trust. Members of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust’s staff and Board as well as Ásta Ásbjörnsdóttir, General Manager, John Knox House and Scottish Storytelling Centre formed the panel, and were delighted by the calibre of the applicants.

They were hugely impressed with the range, detail and beauty of the architects’ work but were unanimous in their decision that Witherford Watson Mann best met with the strategic brief of the project and demonstrated the most thorough understanding of the Trust’s vision for the future. Witherford Watson Mann were one of the outstanding practices, out of 18 who submitted examples of their work, invited to present to the panel alongside Carmody Groarke Architects, Page and Park, Benjamin Tindall Associates and Collective Architecture.