Original features

September 11, 2008

Edinburgh's new Informatics Forum, officially opened by First Minister Alex Salmond last week, is designed both to "repair the urban grain" of the area and to pioneer a style of academic architecture that promotes the cross-fertilisation of ideas.

George Square is at the heart of the university. Although it dates back to 1767, most of the original buildings were swept away in an ill-fated redevelopment scheme in the 1960s. This left behind the University Library, the unloved David Hume and Appleton Towers and a windswept car park in the northeast corner. It is here that the Informatics Forum has been erected as part of a wider plan to reconnect the university with the rest of the city.

Designed by Bennetts Associates, it is built around a central glass atrium on six floors, and brings together for the first time the 500-600 researchers who make up the world-class School of Informatics. It includes "drop-in spaces" for staff from other departments, "break-out" balconies with spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle, "floating" staircases and a digital board displaying the names of donors in binary code.

An evaluation project by environmental psychologists will analyse users' movements so as to ensure that the design really helps achieve wider social and educational objectives.

This is part of a series exploring celebrated and lesser-known architectural treasures within British higher education.

Suggestions most welcome: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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