Scotsman Steps, 2011

artist collaboration with Martin Creed in Edinburgh

The Scotsman Steps were built between 1899 and 1902 as part of the construction of the Scotsman Newspaper buildings and are contained in an octagonal stone tower forming a pedestrian link between North Bridge and Market Street in Edinburgh. The steps were Category A listed in 1974 and sit at the heart of the Old Town Conservation area and World Heritage Site. After 100 years, the Scotsman Steps had become dilapidated leading to it being seen as a threatening environment, and in turn it became a focus for illicit or antisocial behaviour. Edinburgh World Heritage and Edinburgh City Council recognised the problems and put in place a programme of renovation.

As part of the renovation The Fruitmarket Gallery commissioned a new public installation by Turner-Prize winning artist Martin Creed. Haworth Tompkins worked with local architect Chris Bowes to restore the stone tower and developed the design and implementation of the artwork proposal to re-surface the steps with different and contrasting marbles from all over the world.

Creed describes the project, titled Work No.1059, as a microcosm of the world; stepping on the different marble steps is like walking through the world, the new staircase dramatising Edinburgh’s internationalism and contemporary significance while recognising and respecting its historical importance. This is both a typical Creed idea, involving as it does the direct engagement of the public in a work whose simplicity belies its conceptual and architectural complexity, and an appropriate response to the particular situation of the Steps.

The approach to carrying out the restoration project followed ICOMOS guidelines, the guidelines of the Burra Charter and Edinburgh World Heritage Policies. In addition to the steps, the conservation works included: structural repairs, masonry repairs, new leadwork to cornices, repairs and painting of iron grilles, cleaning of glazed bricks, installation of new iron gates and handrail and re-glazing of interior windows with an opaque toughened glass. Built into the fabric of Edinburgh, this new work engages audiences outside the gallery environment, becoming part of their everyday experience of navigating the city, challenging their expectations of performing the simple action of walking up or down a set of steps. The scheme has impacted very positively on the local community increasing access to art and volume of traffic to this historic thoroughfare, which provides a useful shortcut between the main railway station and the old town.

“So modest that it almost refuses to be art at all, and so generous that it serves as a utopian call for a better civic life, this is a radical and beautiful work.” Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

client

fruitmarket gallery

artist collaboration

martin creed

conservation architect

mcgregor bowes

heritage consultant

km heritage

contractor

AB mearns

structural engineer

price & myers

marble supplier

margraf

picture credits

gautier deblonde, chris bowes


Awards
2012 — RIAS Award: The Scotsman Steps
2012 — Scottish Design Award: The Scotsman Steps
2012 — Edinburgh Architectural Association Award: (Shortlist): The Scotsman Steps