Old Royal Infirmary building transformed into university's new learning hub

The 20,000 sqm redevelopment is now one of the largest institutes for interdisciplinary learning in Europe.

Edinburgh’s Old Royal Infirmary hospital building transformed into university’s new learning hub

The Old Royal Infirmary has reopened to the public following an extensive seven-year, multi-million pound restoration.

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) has officially opened its doors to the public in the transformed A-listed building – a new hub aiming to bring together people to find innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

The 20,000-square-metre redevelopment is now one of the largest institutes for interdisciplinary learning, research and innovation in Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of people will have memories of the Edinburgh Infirmary.

Whether it was for work, treatment or training – each room of the building has a story to tell.

Professor Dhaliwal

For Professor Kev Dhaliwal, EFI’s interim director, it’s where his journey into medicine began.

Dhaliwal said: “I was a doctor here and I trained here from 1993 as a student until 1999 and then the building shut in 2002. And now it’s kept its history.

“It means a lot to a lot of people. Everybody has a connection to this building.

“There’s that old spirit. The architects, the builders, all the people who worked on this have done something remarkable. they’ve brought life into the Old Royal.

“The EFI is bringing the arts, humanities, social science, health and engineering together to look at big problems the world is facing. It’s an exciting place to be.”

Built in 1879, the Old Royal Infirmary housed the city’s main hospital until 2003 and was once described by The Illustrated London News as “the best-planned hospital” in Britain.

The building’s signature wide and airy Nightingale wards have been retained and are now reused as teaching and workspaces.

Old Royal Infirmary transformed into new university learning institute

Iain Tinsdale, architect at Bennetts Associates, explains that the hospital was designed for the purpose of disease control, with six separate wards centred around a spire.

He added: “We wanted to flip that on its head, the university used to collaborate and bring people together which is the opposite of what the building did.

“We’ve gone through a huge amount of stripping back, finding what the problems are and putting it back together to give the university the wonderful spaces you see today.

“It’s been quite a journey and a lot of effort to get there.”

Through a series of educational programmes, partnerships and research projects, Edinburgh Futures Institute is building on the University’s expertise in interdisciplinary fields including arts and humanities, health, data science and artificial intelligence to address global challenges such as the ethics of AI, social inequality and climate change.

Alongside new access points from Middle Meadow Walk, a new public square has been created along with a café and exhibition and performance spaces.

CEO Jude Henderson said: “It’s a project which has been many years in creation. To be able to open to the public is very exciting.

Edinburgh Futures Institute chief executive Jude Henderson

“We have event spaces, the book festival, we will have tenants, living in the building, researchers and students learning.

“We want to bring people together to use data responsibly to solve the biggest challenges facing us in today’s world.

“We’ve got colleagues who worked and trained here, people who have lost family members and had children here.

“We’re very respectful of the fact this is part of the city’s history, which belongs to the people of Edinburgh.”

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