One of the things that struck me when I moved to Scotland was the number of repurposed buildings you can find at every turn.
This was especially true of churches, some of which have been turned into casinos, bars, and restaurants in cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Coming from a predominantly Catholic country where such makeovers would be regarded as little short of sacrilegious, engaging in any activity other than praying, confessing, or taking communion in a temple-turned-pub was a perplexing idea at first.
A similar sentiment can be observed in other countries. Take France, for instance, where church officials have voiced their opposition to plans to restore the damaged interior of Notre Dame Cathedral with a more “visitor-friendly experience” filled with modern art and ambience lighting, saying it would make an “ecclesiastical Disneyland” out of the historic Paris landmark.
Back in Scotland, repurposing is far from limited to church buildings, though. Department stores offer a less contentious and perhaps more timely case in point.
According to a new study by planning consultancy Nexus Planning titled Future: Department Stores, 48.5% of the department stores trading in Scotland in 2015 are still operating, with many being identified for redevelopment. The report highlights that almost 30% of these properties have been repurposed and more than 14% are currently – or will be – mixed-use.
For residents and visitors alike, nowhere is this more evident than in the Scottish capital, where developers have spotted a huge opportunity for repurposing former high street department stores. The most recent example is the old House of Fraser building on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, which was given a second lease of life last September with the opening of the Johnnie Walker visitor experience.
But that’s not the only department store redevelopment Edinburgh’s high street is set to witness. The former Debenhams store will undergo regeneration works to house a 207-room boutique hotel, restaurant, and rooftop bar after the council granted planning permission for its £50m transformation earlier this year.
Further along Princes Street, the old BHS building is also up for redevelopment, with a planning application being sought to turn the former department store into a mix of retail, hotel, restaurant, and rooftop space.
These redesigns have the potential of turning an ailing high street into a buzzing thoroughfare once again. While 21st-century department store brands attempt to find a new purpose in the age of online shopping, repurposing the buildings they once occupied is helping high streets find their own path to new glory days.