Is That What People Really See?

There’s been so much negative comment about the new St James Quarter, I feel more or less alone in really really liking it. Walking along George Street to get the no 26 bus home from the stop beside the building formerly known as Jenners, the sun caught the top of the new building and I thought ‘that’s beautiful, and whatever it is, it’s not a turd.’ It was a big coppery ribbon settling on a glass building, and it looked like something fitting for a great capital city. It was lovely. I was a tiny bit drunk.

Let us not forget what was there before. First of all there was a slum; then they knocked that down and put up the enormous concrete edifice that was the St James Centre. Ghastly enough outside with its faceless hotel and a walkway past the vast blank Soviet New St Andrews House. Inside, poky entrances to mainly poky shops, a terrible food court and, increasingly as time passed, a feeling of empty despair. It was so dark that if the nasty lighting had ever failed, you would never have got out. So when they came to knock that down I guess there were a few fans of brutalist architecture (I understand it’s not directly linked to personality disorder, but still) who mourned, but mainly I think Edinburgh breathed a sigh of relief.

The new building is light and airy; it has space to move around in; I would like one of the benches for my garden. The shops – and let’s not forget that it is primarily a shopping centre, so the shops matter – are a cut above the old place: how pleasing not having to schlep to Stockbridge to go to Aesop and how lovely is the new expanded John Lewis. The food is much much better. In general, it’s just got a bit more class. Yes, I know, it’s the end of shopping on Princes Street, but that’s been coming for a while.

The main criticism of course, is of the building’s external design. It looks like a Walnut Whip, or a turd, we are told. Well, it’s a funny Walnut Whip if it’s that – I mean where’s the walnut? And as for the other, well in Tokyo, we saw a building which the locals call ‘The Golden Turd’ and, honeys, it really looked like a turd laid by a giant King Midas. I have to say that so many people repeated this calumny about our new building that it got me worried about the state of their digestive systems. If they look at the new St James Quarter and truly see a turd, I think they need to see a doctor. The prospect just seemed very…painful.

Each to his or her own of course. But when was the last time there was much acclaim for a new building in this city? Remember how many people hated the Scottish Parliament? That’s another building which gives me pleasure every time I pass it, even on the occasions when I’m angry about what’s going on inside. No Aesop in there, mind even if there’s the odd fable



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