Cascading down the hillside near the base of the historic Edinburgh Castle and looking down upon the heart of the city, a series of structures lies partially hidden beneath the surface of the earth. Their glass facades peek out from beneath the castle’s lush green gardens, offering intriguing glimpses at what might be inside and luring visitors from one pavilion to the next to interact with civic, commemorative, cultural, and botanical attractions.

West Princes Street Gardens - wHY

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That’s exactly what the committee judging the Ross Pavilion International Design Contest was looking for, so it’s no wonder that this proposal from the American architecture firm wHY took home the top prize, beating out a number of strong contenders from big-name firms like the Bjarke Ingels Group. The shortlisted proposals were selected from 125 entries and can all be seen on the competition’s website.

West Princes Street Gardens - wHY

The brief called for an original design that would enhance Edinburgh’s reputation and image “as a dynamic and creative city,” rejuvenating the existing gardens and enhancing their biodiversity. The gardens not only act as a “green lung” for the city, but they also serve as a tranquil getaway full of visual and sensory pleasures. The brief also called for entrants to incorporate sustainable values, improved physical and intellectual access, a variety of changing usages from dawn to dusk, and a modern, flexible venue space that could host a combination of small and large-scale events 365 days a year into their proposals.

West Princes Street Gardens - wHY

The winning design from wHY features a “butterfly” pavilion and a new visitor center subtly folded into the landscape, ensuring that the castle remains the primary focal point. Drawing inspiration from the gardens’ history and geological features, wHY’s Victorian-style “pleasure garden” offers entertainment, art, and thousands of botanical delights. Plus, sliding the architectural elements beneath the gardens maintains the greatest amount of green space relative to manmade surfaces.

West Princes Street Gardens - wHY

“This is a special opportunity for a special place, not just for Edinburgh but for the world,” says Mark Thomann, wHY’s Landscape Design Director. “The new Ross Pavilion and Gardens draw from the rich natural history, heritage, and creative spirit of Scotland, embodying a model approach for integrating public architecture and urban space in a top global city. Our team looks forward to realizing this vision with the Ross Development Trust and the people of Edinburgh.”

West Princes Street Gardens - plan

Paved pathways meander around the gardens to provide views from a variety of angles, making them easy to navigate for all visitors. The lines are all fluid and organic. A big part of this proposal’s appeal over those by architectural titans like BIG and Sou Fujimoto is the sense of balance it creates, keeping everything within a human scale so that no one element overwhelms the design’s overall program.

“Their proposal is a landscape scheme that is really more like an energy-field: using animation and drama as well as open vistas, they transform the Gardens and create an experience that is much freer and organic,” says competition director Malcolm Reading. “As is their style, they conscientiously sampled local opinion and have come up with a design proposal that is engaging and refreshing.”

The new West Princes Street Gardens are expected to open to the public by December 2019.