Richard Murphy Architects

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

The Fruitmarket sits in the central valley of Edinburgh adjacent to (and above) Waverley Station. The original commission to facelift the gallery was greatly extended to undertake a complete remodelling.

This involved the construction of a new roof which flies over the old parapet, thus dramatically increasing the hanging height of the upper gallery. In the centre of the roof are large rooflights and under these is a new staircase connecting the two floors and also bringing light down to the lower level.

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh- Richard Murphy Architects

On the ground floor the cafe and bookshop were relocated to the front facade, which was opened to the street as a means of dissolving the threshold and tempting visitors into an intermediate space between street and exhibition. A section of the original stone facade was completely removed to form the new entrance at street level and provide space for a hoist at the upper level. In the summer this can be transformed into a balcony by a sliding screen.

From within, the clerestories and new windows give selected vistas of recognisable monuments both near and far around the city, linking the experience of the interior to the experience of the city.

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh- Richard Murphy Architects

Top light is reflected off a central warm air duct with south light animating one side of the central screen. This appears as a hidden source when seen from the street. The new winged roof springs from tree like portal frame columns and the staircase is capable of being raised to allow large objects into the lower gallery. The reception desk and cafe were designed by the office but the bookshop of which they were an intergral part was never constructed.

The galvanized staircase with its flexible design can change the whole orientation of the way the gallery space is used. Edinburgh is well known for its cultural life. The annual Inter-national Arts Festival is world famous and attracts many thou-sands of visitors to the city, with its art galleries playing a significant role. The Fruitmarket Gallery was reconstructed on a very tight budget and the result has transformed an old industrial build-ing into a leading venue for con-temporary art. At the heart of this art  gallery is a galvanized drawbridge.


The 80’s concept of utilising every last inch of space in a city by plac-ing buildings over railway tracks is not as modern as it might seem. In the early part of this century a simple steel framed two-storey warehouse was built over the tracks leading into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station.

At that time the warehouse was used to store fruit and vegetables, but as methods of distribution changed it fell into disuse and in 1970 was turned into an art gallery. The conversion, however, was not very successful and the gallery failed financially in 1990. It was, however, rescued by the Scottish Arts Council in 1992.

The Council recognised the galllery’s important role and agreed to underwrite its restructuring. The budget was extremely tight at a mere £350,000, but the challenge was picked up by Richard Murphy Architects and the results are dramatic.


The most obvious changes from outside have been the provision of large windows at street level and a new raised roof, floating above the building. The windows break away from the 19th century concept of the gallery as a hermetically sealed box, by inviting passers-by to come and share the experiences inside. The new roof, in the form of a flattened W, soars over the top of the building and clerestory windows down the axis of the building allow light to pour in.

A new street level cafe acts as an attractive meeting place drawing people into the gallery, and can remain open when the rest of the gallery is closed.

Galvanized drawbridge

The drawbridge staircase links the two levels of the gallery and with its three possible positions ( down, level and up) it organises the space functionally while animating it at the same time.

The project was completed in 1993.

Images © Peter Cook

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