Exchange Place, Edinburgh: dynamic design to stand the test of time

Almost ten years after the Exchange Place development in Edinburgh was first completed, the public realm hard landscaping still looks as new today as when it was first installed. The development is now home to an impressive line-up of occupiers and has attracted a number of FTSE 100 companies and key financial businesses to the area, including BlackRock, Brewin Dolphin and Baillie Gifford. Having brought a wealth of jobs to the city, Exchange Place now lies right at the heart of what has become firmly established as Edinburgh’s main commercial centre.

Here we revisit the inspiration behind the project and explore how this lasting legacy was created.

Project Background

Located on the site of the former meat market, in the financial district and commercial hub of Edinburgh, Exchange Place was developed back in 2009 to create much-needed office space in the city. Featuring three new build high specification office buildings, the development aimed to create over 200,000 sq ft of contemporary and striking new work space, linked by an equally prevailing public realm.

Master planned over twenty years ago, the landscape design that connects the space creates both an appealing aesthetic and functional campus environment, which has helped to attract a prestigious clientele to the area.

In the early stages of the development, landscape architect Alastair Haigh (pictured below), who now works at Optimised Environments Ltd (OPEN), turned to Hardscape to help select and supply the stone for the public realm area.  Here he shares the thinking behind the original design and explains how this vision was brought to life.

Heritage-inspired Design

“The rich history of the site was a major inspiration and capturing this was integral to the project from the outset.”

“The site previously included the termination of the Union Canal, connecting into the basins of Port Hamilton and Port Hopetoun (both infilled in 1922) and was also formerly home to Edinburgh’s Meat Market (built 1884). Opposite the site stood Edinburgh’s first municipal slaughterhouse. The Slaughterhouse had been long demolished, however parts of the Meat Market survived, including a three-arched frontage with impressive looking carved stone Bull’s Heads.”


The main public space is defined by feature walls of both coloured glazed brick and white insitu concrete, which is inset with five large photo-etched concrete artwork panels depicting imagery and text from the old Meat Market and Slaughterhouse. “

“At the entrances to the site, we used Caithness to define foyer spaces. We relocated the existing Meat Market arch to one of these areas after it had been carefully taken down, cleaned and rebuilt in its original two arch configuration on a new precast concrete supporting structure.”


Product selection: modern materials used to reflect the rich history of the site

“For the paving, Hardscape supplied a range of materials that would be sympathetic to the stone used for the construction of the new buildings and help to enhance the contemporary feel that we were aiming for. We selected a combination of Mist Granite, Crystal Black Granite and Alta Quartzite to pave the space, creating a stand-out finish.”

“The majority of the public realm is paved with ‘Mist’ silver grey granite in a flamed finish. As this paving gets closer to the feature walls and bench, pineapple finish units are gradually feathered into the mix, providing additional texture and interest. Bands of flamed, crystal black granite, run across the space. These began life conceptually as the bands of a butcher’s apron and became an organising element for street furniture, lighting and drainage.”

This product selection presented some technical challenges, as Hardscape had to ensure the Alta Quartzite, which is available in thickness between 25-35mm, could be laid with the thicker sections of granite, taking into consideration the technical differences between the two. Logistically, Hardscape also had to carefully manage the supply process to ensure the delivery was co-ordinated as smoothly as possible, with materials sourced from different corners of the world – from Asia and Norway to Scotland.

Conceptual landscape design

“A number of conceptual features were woven into the landscape design to give a subtle nod to the history of the site. The Union Canal was opened in 1822 and was known locally at the time as the ‘Mathematical River’ due to the fact it follows the 73m contour from Edinburgh to Falkirk. In 1834 a civil engineer named John Scott Russell observed what he described as a ‘wave of translation’ on the canal, a wave generated by a horse-drawn canal boat that continued ‘apparently without change of form or diminution of speed’. Following the discovery, he studied the properties of the wave and these theories formed the beginning of the study of solitons, which have since been widely explored in fibre optic applications and other areas.”

“We integrated this historical element in the landscape design with the band of riven alta quartzite that runs through the full length of the space – selected for its blue/grey colour and slight metallic sheen. This was laid at a constant level through the site along the historic alignment of the Union Canal and in this way celebrates the mathematical river.

“Along its length, the paving band is interspersed with linear fibre optic lights which are a nod both to the discovery of the ‘wave of translation’ and a graphic representation of the bridges, tunnels and aqueducts, which allow the Canal to maintain its constant level.

“Bronze interpretation plaques terminate the paving band at either end and describe the history of the site in more detail.

“The pedestrianised street in the centre of the block widens to form a small south facing square which also features key design elements including glazed brick walls, a photo-etched concrete artwork and an oversized timber bench. These features were designed to help address level changes and bring a more human scale to the space, addressing challenges presented by the adjacent development and a large blank gable wall which faces onto the space. “

A legacy that lives on

Almost ten years since the project was completed, the longevity of the landscape design and products selected continues to shine through. The paving still looks brand new and the cutting-edge design doesn’t look out of time in today’s landscape.

Aidan Baun, Hardscape’s Scotland Sales Manager, comments, “At Hardscape, we always like to keep an eye on projects we deliver, but when I revisited this particular scheme, which was completed before my time, I was shocked to discover it was almost ten years old. It looks brand new, which is a testament to the fact that Hardscape always searches for and suggests materials of timelessness and durability.”

Haigh comments, “The routes through the site are well used and particularly on a sunny day the space is popular with the south facing aspect and walls creating a pleasant microclimate to sit out in. The elements which represent the history of the site are well integrated within the scheme and whilst some are obvious, some are less so and are there to be discovered.” 

With such an appealing public realm design, it’s perhaps no surprise that today the area is in high demand, with top financial businesses competing for office space on the site – now worth a combined value of approximately £83 million following the sale of Exchange Place 1 at £47 million in May 2017.

For more information about this project and the products selected, please visit: