When the University developed the George Square area in the 1960s a huge swathe of Georgian Edinburgh was demolished, leading to accusations of cultural vandalism and megalomania. The Appleton Tower was intended as the first phase of the proposed interlinked Fundamental Science buildings, in a development that would have covered much of the South Side (p66, fig.22). The Tower was named in posthumous honour of physicist Sir Edward Appleton, the Principal who oversaw the development from vision into concrete reality of the 1960s Edinburgh University buildings around George Square.
In the post-war period, vociferous support for the George Square scheme, and impassioned opposition to it, were so intense as to elevate it to a national debate. Thus, many were glad that some of Appleton's vision was not completed (p. 74).
Designed by Alan Reiach, Eric Hall and Partners, the building included seven floors of laboratory accommodation, surmounting a double-height circulation concourse, with various facilities provided in its podium. A block containing five lecture theatres clad in conglomerate concrete and pebble-imbedded slabs is attached to its southern side. The tower’s completion in 1966 created a symbolic manifestation of Appleton’s vision for integration of the arts and sciences, with twin towers, David Hume (Arts) and Appleton (Sciences), dominating the University's Central area.
An associated teaching block for east George Square, and a Mathematics and Physics building for the ‘car park site’ on north Crichton Street, were intended to interlock at this sector. The latter project was relocated to King’s Buildings in the 1960s, resulting in the James Clerk Maxwell Building, and the succeeding project for the site, the Dental Hospital and School, was abandoned for lack of funding. The Tower was left isolated - and without a proper entrance, as this had been intended to be via connection to further construction.
Appleton Tower was built to allow first-year science students to be taught in the Central Area (p. 59). It has five lecture theatres, together accommodating around 1,200 students, and several smaller seminar and tutorial rooms. The upper floors originally housed teaching laboratories, which, with the development of more modern facilities at King's Buildings, had become outdated by the end of the 20th century.
Three floors (3-5) of the building have been used by the School of Informatics since the Edinburgh Cowgate fire (December 2002), and these have been completely refurbished, creating a modern environment for teaching and research. The five lecture theatres and teaching space on the ground and first floors were refurbished over the summer of 2006, and the remaining floors (basement and 6-8) were also renovated in 2007.
The Tower's external cladding of pre-cast concrete slabs with mosaic detailing has suffered badly from the Scottish weather. Contrary to rumour, however, the structure has been declared sound. The University plans to complete the renovation by recladding the exterior, with a planning application submitted in late 2013 and approved in January 2014. At the same time it plans to rework the podium, create a proper entrance, and integrate the Tower with the surrounding environment of Edinburgh's Southside.
Although the Fundamental Science Buildings were not completed, preparatory demolition of Bristo Street, to form the adjoining Crichton Street site left the University with an embarrassing gap site, which remained as an open, windswept car park for over forty years.
The 2007 completion of the interior renovation of Appleton Tower coincides with further development of the surrounding area; the Crichton Street Car Park closed in 2005 to allow construction to start on the Informatics Forum, for completion in 2007, and further accommodation for Philosophy and Linguistics, for completion in 2008.
The geneticist Steve Jones has nominated "the ugliness of the Appleton Tower" as one of the wonders of the world for a BBC2 TV show. Early in 2005, a student newspaper launched a campaign to nominate it for the Channel 4 series Demolition – a series about the "worst buildings in Britain". The Tower did not make the final twelve. Later, in the same year, Historic Scotland considered giving the building listed status, but after opposition it was removed from the list.
- George Square 1876-1976
- Scotsman.com News
- Edinburgh University CompSoc – Appleton Tower
- Photo from the BBC
- blitzandblight.com / Appleton Tower