Light, Style, Space: Edinburgh Through An Architect’s Eye


Light, Style, Space: Edinburgh Through An Architect’s Eye

Architect and artist Tamsin Cunningham, 37, has lived in Edinburgh for 20 years, since her university days. Four days a week she works as senior associate at the award-winning WT Architecture. Outside of WTA, Tamsin is a co-founder and creative director of Open Close, a collective of artists, musicians and photographers.

“Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. It’s very spacious, elegant and surprisingly peaceful, with little pockets of space to be tranquil. Edinburgh does intimate very well, from small streets studded with independent shops to foodie pop-ups; and I love that everything just a half hour walk away so I can be very spontaneous and fluid about social plans.

Most of the flats in Edinburgh are beautifully proportioned and light, and even from the heart of the city you can always see its edge. For the past 12 years I’ve been lucky enough to live in a top floor flat on Leith Walk with amazing views – the city just falls away to the Firth of Forth with the sea on one side and the Forth Bridge on the other.

Edinburgh is a really lovely city for appreciating the small, daily moments and rituals in your life. Architecturally, my recommendation would be the to visit National Museum of Scotland by the architects Benson & Forsyth. It’s such a beautiful building to wander around and the architecture is very nuanced, reflecting the historical focus of each exhibition, with interesting ‘palate cleanser’ spaces between.

Credit: National Museum of Scotland, Tamsin Cunningham

One of the projects I’m most proud of in my work at WTA is our design for a new Visitor Centre at the foot of the Forth Bridge. The Bridge, completed in 1890, has such presence and is such an incredible feat of design and civil engineering that we wanted a design that was grounded in its surroundings, with incredible framed views of the Bridge towering overhead.

As an architect, I’m interested in creating places and spaces that are meaningful for the people who use them, who can soak up the small moments and appreciate the details. When you’re working in such beautiful landscapes like Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, the architecture has to belong to its place, and not feel alien to its context.

All my current projects are based on Iona, which is such a special place with the most amazing light, atmosphere and people. I’m working on a space to replace the current village hall, a focal point for the community of 160 people for exercise classes, musical and theatrical events and even a cinema, as well as a craft shop and studio.

If I set off at the crack of dawn, I can be on Iona two ferries later by lunchtime. Being somewhere so remote is a lovely counterpoint to city life and makes me appreciate both the Scottish landscape and Edinburgh even more.

The Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer are obviously hugely exciting, interesting and inspiring and a big part of Edinburgh’s calendar. A lot of people love to loathe festival season and moan about not being able to get anywhere, but I like to dip in and out of it.

I’d recommend wandering down St Stephen Street in Stockbridge. I could spend a whole day there, especially at VoxBox Music record shop and the independent bookshop Golden Hare. Broughton Street is full of great independent shops including Life Story, my go-to place for almost all presents – and more often than not I come out with a present for myself as well. It’s so beautifully curated and a really lovely space to be in, with Scandinavian homeware, jewellery and skincare.

A real treat if you’re staying in Edinburgh would be to book Porteous’ Studio, a calm and beautiful holiday retreat for two created by former colleagues, Izat Arundell.

Credit: Porteous Studio

Foram Forum host pop-up dinners, wine tastings and discussion nights, which are definitely worth booking for an interesting and intimate evening. The Gardener's Cottage is such a beautiful cosy place with a menu based on local, seasonal produce, a lot of it from the garden outside. They have long shared tables so you can make new friends and it’s just a stone's throw from Calton Hill, so you can go for a walk to look out over the city before settling in. We have our annual Christmas celebration with lots of other small architecture practices here every year.

I’m looking forward to eating at The Little Chartroom. Two of my architect friends, Liz and Rachael, love nothing better than critiquing design and food and failed to find a single thing they'd do differently, which is high praise indeed. The interior was designed by Studio Niro, a new practice formed by friends Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde and Nicki Thompson who are making absolutely beautiful, very carefully considered work.

I’d also recommend Good Brothers Wine Bar. It’s intimate and calm with an amazing wine selection. They’ve scaled back their menu to just bar bites but it’s always absolutely delicious.

Portobello is just a couple of miles from Edinburgh city centre and it’s lovely to walk on the Victorian esplanade and feel the sand between your toes on the beach. Another lovely day trip is visiting the series of villages in East Neuk, linked by the coastal path. There’s an amazing seafood place at St Monans, serving delicious langoustines, lobster and crab. It doesn’t get better than sitting on the harbour on a sunny day tucking into fresh langoustines.”


Main image credit: Tamsin Cunningham, Eoin Carey

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