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The Edinburgh Literature Centre - a piece of the psychodynamic city

Part 2 Project 2009
Klas Hyllen
Edinburgh College of Art Edinburgh UK
Human culture is naturally transformational. ‘The Psychodynamic City’, as a philosophical concept, stresses that our perceptions are inevitably rooted in history. A city’s context is metaphorically similar to the human psyche where memories, experiences and the surrounding environment is the root to our present identities. This is a dynamic process, nurtured by seemingly orthodox everyday undertakings, where cultural clashes encourage rumours, stories and conversations. In Edinburgh, a modern city with medieval roots, people from all backgrounds have often been forced to “rub shoulders”. These cultural and social meetings present an abundance of literary inspiration which, ultimately, has granted the city a status as World City of Literature.

The design for a Literature Centre at New Calton Burial Grounds in Edinburgh draws inspiration from this tension; engrained into the historic urban fabric of the city. Two buildings, ‘the keep’ and ‘the origami leaf’, are juxtaposed at either end of the site; a conversation exists between the two and invites to further dialogue.

‘The keep’ houses the primary functions of the centre; offices, archives, a small auditorium and ‘writer’s retreats’. It draws inspiration in form from the Old Town structure, with narrow closes and towering blocks, which also, metaphorically, plays on the notion of ‘literature collected’, i.e. a row of books on a shelf.

Hovering over the old perimeter wall, the ‘origami leaf’ is much more playful and aims to draw attention from passersby. Its sculptural form covers the public spaces below where a small cafe, a bookshop and community facilities share space.

Wedged between these built forms is a south-facing courtyard, with a large sycamore tree as its focal point. It becomes a sheltered transition between the outside, the site and the buildings, where the landscape presents spaces for people to relax, discuss and contemplate.

The existing burial ground watchtower takes on a new function as a destination within the graveyard; it is perceived as an inspirational space for writers and visitors. The act of walking to the watchtower brings people past the old gravestones; a humble and symbolic celebration of times gone past and of our ancestors’ accumulated achievements.

Klas Hyllen

The school operates an elective programme of specialist units for final year architecture students and Klas applied to join the unit focusing on ‘Contemporary Architectural Intervention’. The unit encourages students to engage more holistically with the existing built fabric and Klas approached each task with considerable enthusiasm and brio. He is responsive to the complexities of working within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, thoughtful in his approach and articulate in his manipulation of tectonic form to enrich the city. He adopts an iterative approach to design, simultaneously working through a succession of scale models, free-hand sketches and computer renderings. An appreciation of literature (and its evocative power) pervades his work and is allied to his thesis on ‘The Psychodynamic City’.

Klas has proved to be a very capable scholar, always eager to take on new intellectual challenges and not shy about confounding expectations. He is a committed student, exhibits considerable motivation and sets high standard in everything he undertakes. He attained the highest percentage marks of his year for this project and was the unanimous choice as the school's candidate for the RIBA President’s Design Project Medal 2009.

Mr Mark Cousins
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