Urban Cultural Regeneration

A Moment for Innovation

When first introduced the Arts Lottery Award provided a window for local groups to make proposals, with the consequent chance of ground-up innovation in arts provision. 

Malcolm Fraser Architects worked with a small, well-regarded dance provider to: write a brief, that became the model for regional dance centres in Scotland and England; search for and secure a site (unused upper floors on the Grassmarket plus the abandoned remnants of the buildings and closes behind, that used to teem with life); and then advocate for the social art of dance to be funded and supported, with MFA retained to deliver the plans they had evolved.

Dance Base Studio - Simple Pen Sketch showing sightline to Edinburgh Castle

LOCATION / Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Client / DanceBase, ceo Cindy Sughrue

Funding / Arts Lottery Award

Architect / Malcolm Fraser Architects

Completion / June 2001

Gross Internal Area / 1,805m2; 4 Dance Studios with associated changing and offices (with additional 330m2 bar extension provided in-lieu of site purchase) and associated public park and Close.

Brief and Construction / pioneering National Centre for Dance, occupying the steep slopes behind the Grassmarket’s mediaeval frontage.

DanceBase, Edinburgh, Granny's Green steps
New public space outwith the boundary of Dance Base: Granny's Green. Doug Cocker's Leaning Figure is one of three pieces of art commissioned for the building (two pieces by Ute Kogelsberger are inside).

The Deal

Securing a site is necessary before funding can be sought (a process taking years); but most sites can’t be secured without funding. This paradox was avoided, as the site was landlocked and its brewery owners could only develop it by fire escape out the rear, across land owned by the City of Edinburgh Council – Dance Base supporters.

Funding and development therefore locked together: with the site being paid for by constructing a bar extension under DanceBase, into the Castle Rock; the Council site providing space for an additional Studio when the brief expanded; and the escape route out, the chance to introduce a new Close and city park on the old, inaccessible drying green (renamed by the locals “Granny’s Green”), with the historic c16th city Flodden Wall, lying collapsed, rebuilt to its edge.

Civilising Regeneration

Conventional regeneration models rely heavily on tourists, hotels, cafes and stag-nighters, with Edinburgh’s Grassmarket suffering particularly from the melee. DanceBase introduced a calming, civilising and elevating artistic focus with local use and health at its core – the city for its citizens as well as its visitors.

Dance Base Edinburgh, Entrance and facade in the Grassmarket.Shown at night. Malcolm Fraser Architects

Main Contractor / HBG (Management Contract)

Contract Value / £4.25m

MFA Team / Peter McLaughlan, Helen Kelly, John Munro, Clive Albert, Calum Duncan, Rachael Scott, Alex Liddell, Malcolm Fraser

Structural Engineer / Cundalls

Services / K J Tait

Costs / Morham & Brotchie

Dance Base , Edinburgh with Edinburgh Castle
Dance Base, Edinburgh. Doolan Award winner, Stirling Prize finalist. Malcolm Fraser Architects, 2001.

A Collage of Studios

Dance Base is not so much a building as a collage of studios and routes, each of the four studios representing, in its relationship to the world around it, a wee utopia. Each learns from its location, as from dance: the busy studio connected to the busy Grassmarket contrasting with the quiet, centred pavilion with its garden, to the rear; and the studio dug into the slope of the rock, and looking out over the Old Town roofscape, emphasising the weight and connectedness of dance from traditional cultures, while the principal studio’s huge view up of the Castle, and the sky, reaches down to lift a dancer up, as in the transcendence that underlies ballet, as much western dance and culture in general.

Routes in and through are articulated by light, with changes of direction only as dictated by stairs and reception, across glass floors, the whole emphasising simplicity, and a response to the sensory, in place of an accumulation of architectural detail or stylistic imposition.

Studio at Dancbase Edinburgh, Glass on one side. Dancers training.
Studio in existing building looking out onto the trees of the Grassmarket - DanceBase Edinburgh
Over 2,500 people a week currently experience the physical and emotional benefits of dance at Dance Base.
Large square studio at DanceBase Edinburgh, dancers training by mirror. Studio is lit from the skylight in the trapezoid roof. Malcolm Fraser Architects
Rooflit corridor with concrete pillar and exposed stonework, DanceBase Edinburgh. Malcolm Fraser Architects.

Principal Awards

Prospect Top 100 modern (post 1945) Scots Buildings, 2005


European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, 2003


Edinburgh Architectural Association, 2002

Building of The Year

Edinburgh Architectural Association, 2002

Art in Architecture - Uta Kogelsberger

Civic Trust Award, 2002

RIBA Award, 2002

Dynamic Place Awards, 2002

High Commendation

Scottish Design Awards, 2002

The Chairman's Award for Architecture

RIAS, 2002

Doolan Award for Architecture

Stirling Prize, 2002


Adapt Trust Access Award, 2002

The Herald Angel Award, 2001

Edinburgh Festival (normally given to shows)

Further Information


Keith Hunter