High School Yards first historic building to win top green building award

05 December 2013

ECCI's new home at High School Yards has become the first listed building to achieve the UK’s highest green building award.

Edinburgh’s newly transformed Old High School in Edinburgh’s Old Town, is the first refurbished building in the UK to achieve the industry sustainability ‘BREEAM Outstanding’ award at design stage. The Centre will have to wait a further six months for the construction phase assessment.

The 19 month, £10.5million refurbishment, originally designed by Edinburgh’s Malcolm Fraser Architects, involved the transformation of the 18th Century Old High School into a low carbon hub - designed to bring together experts from business, Government and academia to innovate and solve the complex problems associated with climate change and the transition to a low carbon way of life.

BREEAM is the UK construction industry’s leading sustainability assessment method and considers elements such as waste, pollution, land use and ecology, materials, management, health & wellbeing, energy and transport in grading new buildings.

The Centre’s unique design included careful consideration of building fabric, prioritising sustainable and recycled materials, and a specialised ‘vapour open’ system of insulation to limit energy loss, but ensure good indoor air quality.  Features such as recovering heat from high level of the central atrium space to pre-heat the air serving occupied spaces; solar controlled glazing in the windows to keep occupants cool and reduce the need for cooling, energy efficient lighting controls and under-floor heating connected to a Combined Heat and Power source will all contribute to a 30% saving in energy consumption over the building’s former performance. 

The design team believe that the achievement of such a high standard of sustainability in the refurbishment of an historic building for the first time represents an opportunity for a radical alternative to current sustainable building models. Existing models favour new buildings and materials over renewal and preservation of existing building fabric.

a low carbon economy should start with the joyful renewal of sturdy historic buildings - Architect Malcolm Fraser

Lead architect Malcolm Fraser said:

“Compared to the standard demolish-and-newbuild “sustainability” model the ECCI building represents a radical alternative and, as a general lesson, we suggest that the achievement of a low carbon economy should start with the joyful renewal of sturdy historic buildings, rather than their replacement.

This recognition, of the importance of the integrity of the existing built environment, extends out from the building into the surrounding urban fabric. The historic Surgeon’s Square (where Burke and Hare once delivered cadavers to Dr Knox’s Dissection Theatre) to the rear of the Centre, is recovered and transformed from a forgotten car park to a valuable urban focus. Routes are opened-up through it connecting the Centre to the Parliament, and to the general institutions and amenities of Edinburgh, by foot.”

The 2333 square metre building sits on the site of Edinburgh’s historic Old High School in High School Yards, which counts famous figures such as Sir Walter Scott among its former pupils. Some of the building work also took place on the site of the 13th Century Blackfriars Monastery, which led on-site archaeologists to discover nearly 100 skeletons, one of which - a suspected nobleman – made headlines all over the world in March 2013.

ECCI Executive Director Andy Kerr said:

“Our fantastic new home is on a site that has been a focus for learning and teaching for around 800 years so it was very important for us to preserve the integrity of the existing building at the same time as creating a modern, fit for purpose, energy efficient hub.

Malcolm Fraser Architects have created a space that has been designed specifically to help ECCI to achieve its goals and we hope that by bringing the right people together in this unique environment we will be able solve the complex problems associated with climate change and the transition to a low carbon future.”

Main contractor GRAHAM Construction brought a range of innovative techniques to the creation of the unique facility. Regional director Neil McFarlane said: “We are very proud of having played such a pivotal role in the creation of this showpiece facility. The ECCI is the only building of its kind in the world and this means we have had to bring completely new solutions to a unique set of construction challenges.

“The construction of the building has involved a careful integration of the old with the new and we are confident users of the facility will be stunned when they see what has been created.”
e created a space that has been designed specifically to help ECCI to achieve its goals and we hope that by bringing the right people together in this unique environment we will be able solve the complex problems associated with climate change and the transition to a low carbon future.”

Find out more

Recent news: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/news.html

Conferencing, Events & Meetings: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/Venue.html

What makes it innovative: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/What-makes-it-innovative.html

What makes it green: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/What-makes-it-green.html 

History: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/History.html

Photography project:http://www.edinburghcentre.org/Photography-project.html

Learning & teaching: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/Learning-and-Teaching.html