O’Shea Halls

Located on an extraordinary site in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, this development has created over 1,100 new student rooms in a scheme that is strongly rooted in the historic city and enjoys an array of on-site student resource, amenity and social spaces.

This project was delivered in association with Oberlanders Architects and HarrisonStevens Landscape Architects with Balfour Beatty Construction as Main Contractor.




University of Edinburgh



In our approach to the Holyrood project we sought inspiration from the particular context of the Old Town, from its closes and wynds, vennels pends and courts. The densely arranged, vertically dominant buildings of the scheme frame spaces that are contained and enthralling. Twists and turns and changes in level echo the medieval streetscape which has underpinned the urban grain of Edinburgh for centuries. The adoption of colonnades to mediate between interior and exterior was a key parameter of the design. Following the developed urban grain of long, linear spaces and buildings, the ‘colonnade’ became the defining element in expressing a ‘collegiate’ atmosphere within the framework of streets and spaces.

Our proposals for the central component of the Holyrood North section include 472 en suite student rooms, arranged in a “halls of residence” format and supported by easy to access common rooms and pantries.  At the heart of the proposal is an expansive communal kitchen and social space, top-lit by large rooflights which express themsleves as prismatic forms in the landscaped courtyard above. A generous reception space serves the wider development and an open common room, TV room, and study space provide additional amenity space for students. Office facilities, a public café/bistro, a lecture theatre and an outreach centre occupy the public facade onto Holyrood Road.

A large communal garden located over the kitchen, provides a landscaped amenity space for the students, and connects the primary external spaces, which stitch together several points of access in a manner that is sympathetic to the historic urban grain of the Old Town. These spaces are open to the public during daylight hours creating new pedestrian routes through this previously closed area of the Old Town.

Project gallery

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The Challenge

The development challenge was to create high quality accommodation in the heart of Edinburgh’s World Heritage site that is innovative, comfortable, safe, environmentally sustainable and responsive to student needs.

The Solution

A particular innovation in our design proposal was the central social/dining experience, where self-catering happens within a large, dynamic, interactive space. Also incorporated was an Outreach centre with prestigious teaching, conference and restaurant facilities.

The Outcome

The World Heritage status and the industrial context of the sites have been reflected within the architecture of the finished development. A variety of architectural styles and treatments have been used to produce a vibrant street frontage. Particular consideration has also been given to the public realm so as to define and create the unique sense of place and character required for this distinctive collegiate quarter of Edinburgh.

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